Africa’s telecom sector will have private investments of more $70-billion by 2012, surpassing the $55-billion promised by investors at a United Nations-backed meeting in 2007, the head of the UN telecoms agency said.
Keen on getting a piece of the action in one of the continent’s fastest growing sectors, investors at a UN-backed African telecoms meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, in late 2007 had committed to put $55-billion into the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector.
“In the first two years we had $21-billion, which makes me believe by the end of the five years we will surpass very easily $70-billion”, Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said on Sunday.
Toure was speaking on the sidelines of the annual African Union summit in Addis Ababa, where leaders are devoting much of their time to discussions on how to boost telecommunications on the continent.
“We will go beyond the $55-billion that was pledged”, he said.
The ITU brings together governments, regulators, academic institutions and businesses from around the world.
At the Kigali meeting, African countries also pledged to construct national fibre-optic networks with the goal of linking all cities and major towns by 2012.
Toure said all regions, with the exception of central Africa, had made progress in fibre-optic networking, and governments with proper regulations and ICT policies were guaranteed private sector capital because the business was growing rapidly.
Companies active in Africa include Britain’s Vodacom, France Telecom, Kuwait’s Zain Kenya’s Safaricom, and South Africa’s MTN.
“What the private sector is looking for is predictable regulatory environment where the rules of the game are clear and … are not changing during the game”, he said.
“There are over 45 countries with a good regulatory authority today. The challenge is to bring them together, to work together on issues that are intercontinental”.
Mobile penetration in Africa stands at 42%, while only 8% of the people have access to internet connections, in a continent of 1-billion people.
But as Africa ramps up its cyber-credentials, Toure said it needed to be aware of the risk of cyber-conflicts, which could be more devastating “than a tsunami”.
He said sabotaging ICT systems could interfere with aviation navigation systems, shut down electricity grids and lead to the loss of lives if medical systems were attacked.
Toure said states needed to set policies which criminalised misdemeanours in cyberspace and to establish response teams that had the technical capacity to deal with such attacks.
He said the cost of setting up systems to protect telecommunications was not high, but the hurdle was countries did not yet appreciate the risk.
“There is not enough awareness about it [cyber attacks]. They may not see it as a threat”, Toure said. “There is a lot of work to be done”. – Reuters