Plenary Session


International Telecommunication Union

Bamako, Mali - 23 February 2000

His Excellency President KONARE of the Republic of Mali,
His Excellency President MONTEIRO of the Republic of Cape Verde,
His Excellency Mr. Guy-Olivier SEGOND, President of the State Council of the Republic and Canton of Geneva,
Political leaders from various countries,
Distinguished invitees,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is an honor for me to speak at the Bamako 2000 event and be part of the effort to build the bridges to development. This is my second visit to Mali, and my first was a very memorable one welcomed by his Excellency President Konaré. So when I received the invitation from him, I was of course very delighted.

Before I go any further in my discussion, I will like to take this opportunity to commend the efforts and leadership of President KONARE, in the ANAIS network, in bringing together such distinguished guests to participate in this event and his kind invitation to host this event. I also wish to congratulate the Fondation du Devenir, ANAIS Network and all those who have worked hard in making Bamako 2000 a reality.

We are here in Bamako to discuss how we can together build bridges so that Africa will be connected economically, technologically and socially both internally and to the rest of the world.

I am happy to say that we have at our disposal a technology of which our forefathers could only dream; a technology which can transform local happenings into global events. That is the technology of telecommunications.

Information and communication technologies have the potential to level the playing field. In Peru, for example, the life of the 50 families living in the small village of Chincheros was, until the mid-1990s, not much different from that of millions of farmers who live today in developing countries.

In 1996, the village was connected to the Internet.

The connection brought not only information from around the world, but also opened up a channel for global trade.

Grasping the opportunity, the council of village leaders was able to establish an online partnership with an international export company. Soon afterwards, Chincheros’ vegetables were shipped directly to the United States to be sold in New York. By 1998, the village's income had grown fivefold.

In the past, high-priced international calls have been a barrier to economic growth. Now, low-priced telecommunication services are facilitating trade and commerce. Today, thanks to telecommunications, e-commerce will allow the people in Segou to communicate via the Internet to check the price of cotton, which they sell to Japan. The farmers in Sikasso will be able to sell their products via the Internet to New Zealand. Information and communication technology will enable the people in Timbuktu to "sell" salt to a wide range of customers some of whom never thought Timbuktu really existed.

I believe that telecommunications can build bridges for development.

However, compared with the average level of telephone penetration in the world - 14% in 1998 - in Mali it was 0.25% and in Africa 2.2%. These figures are too low indeed.

Telecommunications is also a reflection of economic activity. In order to remedy the telecommunications gap, it is necessary to address the economic gap in living standards between regions. But now the telecommunications environment is changing dramatically. This telecommunications revolution, in my opinion, offers new hope to developing countries.

The characteristics of this telecommunications revolution are:

As the consequence of this revolution, people are enjoying very affordable communication services and the unprecedented economic growth created by it.

I believe the recipe for success, which has worked so well in developed countries, can also work in developing countries, and here in Africa, too. Why?

In industrialised countries, demand for telecommunication services always exceeded supply until the day came when the telephone penetrated into every home. This is because the telephone was such a useful tool that everyone was willing to pay for it.

For that reason as long as you have a back log for telephone installation, new players, including foreign investors, can be introduced in the market for the supply of new telephone services without a significant impact on the incumbent operators. And as a result of competition, incumbent public telecommunication operators themselves benefiting from competition become more business-oriented, more customer-responsive and more efficient, and so able to provide less expensive services to their customers.

Once the telephone service becomes more affordable, new strong demand for it is created.

Thus if you become part of the telecommunication revolution, success will also be yours, because the revolution is making the costs of telecommunications services much lower.

This is one of the reasons why most countries have adopted the policy of liberalisation of the telecommunications market. Today it is understood that for the development of a nation’s economy it is vital that it catches up quickly with the world telecommunication revolution.

The recipe involves four main ingredients: competition, private sector participation, independent regulation and the use of the newest technologies. Getting the right balance between those four ingredients can be difficult. There are a number of concerns that need to be carefully addressed, including the requirement to achieve Universal Service to unprofitable areas, to preserve the independence of the regulatory agency, to introduce competitive safeguards and to find out how you will use the newest technologies without wasting the huge investment you have made in the old technologies.

Needless to say, liberalisation of the market alone is not sufficient for the development of telecommunications. You have to ride on the bus of other revolutionary transitions from the fixed service to the mobile one and from a circuit switched network to an IP based network.

Fortunately, there is now an accumulating body of know-how around the world on how these problems can be tackled. The Member States and Sector Members of the ITU are the repositories of that know-how. In the past, the ITU’s development activities have been founded on the exchange of technical assistance. But that is now, correctly, the domain of the private sector. Where the ITU can continue to play a role in the future is as a forum for policy co-ordination and for the sharing of regulatory ‘best practice’ among our Members.

Africa has a rich culture that can be shared and preserved through the use of information and communication technologies. As economies become more dependent on information and knowledge basic telecommunications becomes an important factor in economic activities. This will have an impact on other sectors such as health, education and social services.

Bamako 2000 represents a forum for us to lay the groundwork for addressing these challenges so that Africans should not be left out.

Africans need to work together, public and private sector to face the challenges brought by the development of new technologies and build the bridges to development.

The info-communications present new challenges and opportunities especially to developing countries.

Africans need to forge national and regional alliances, and the public and private sectors need to work together to define priorities and strategies for the integration of information and telecommunication technologies in the development of the economy.

To bridge the gap and build the bridges to development,

Governments need to put in place the necessary legal and regulatory framework to enable the use of authentication, electronic signature, certification and encryption technologies.

Telecommunication is the basic infrastructure of society. Without its development it will be difficult to eradicate illiteracy. Ecenomic development depends heavily upon telecommunications development. I believe one of the most direct routes in the fight against poverty is via the development of telecommunication.

But we need to do more. We need to make reforms to adapt our structure to the changing nature of the telecommunications industry. We need to work with governments and private sector in developing and developed countries to build the bridges to development and make Africa part of the information technology revolution.

Thank you for inviting me and I wish you a successful event.


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