On 7th December 2020, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) held an online Forum to commemorate the establishment of the Union 43 years ago. The Forum was attended by; five African ICT ministers representing each of the five subregions of Africa, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Mr. Houlin ZHAO, policy makers, ICT regulators, and the civil society just to mention a few. The forum was in line with this year’s theme, “Post COVID-19: Role of Telecoms/ICT in the Resumption of Socio-Economic Activities”. The theme was set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic which has attracted global concern following its far-reaching implications on national, regional and global economies.
In his welcome remarks, ATU Secretary General Mr. John OMO reiterated on the fact that an opportunity exists for Africa to find solutions that will outlive the COVID-19 pandemic and retain usefulness in other future situations. “We have isolated ICT to provide this discussion, an attachment that we are familiar with, and one that has proven its capacity to be part of the solution during this crisis. ICT is no longer a support tool but a strategic asset against the Corona-virus pandemic,” he said.
The Chair of the ATU Conference of Plenipotentiaries (the highest decision-making body of the Union) was represented at the forum by Mrs. Mercy Wanjau, the Director General of the Communications Authority of Kenya. She underscored the importance of ICT stakeholders delivering on their mandate in order to help their countries effectively respond to the pandemic. Likewise, ITU’s Mr. Zhao spoke on the importance of considering ICT infrastructure, investment, innovation and inclusion in the post COVID-19 recovery plan.
Africa’s regions were represented in the Panel discussions for this year’s event by: H.E Mr. Ebrima SILLAH, Minister, Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, The Gambia; H.E Dr Peya MUSHELENGA, Minister, Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Namibia; Mr. Anicet NIYONKURU, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transport, Post and Telecommunications, Burundi; and Mr. Az-El-Arab HASSIBI, Director General, National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency, Morocco. They all emphasized the importance of innovation and digital skills in this era and in the management of COVID-19.
The event was for the first time held virtually as a result of COVID-19 cautionary measures. Taking the cue from the effects of the pandemic, the discussions saw policy makers and other stakeholders present sharing experiences, knowledge and data that are critical for the resumption of socio-economic activities in Africa post COVID-19. The following were the declarations by the end of the meeting. The forum;
I. Concurred that ICTs are no longer a support tool but a strategic asset against the pandemic and a pillar for socio-economic development;
II. Highlighted the need for more regional collaboration and sharing of best practices in the management of COVID-19;
III. Agreed to promote talent development, innovation and skills among the African ICT innovators through the provision of opportunities and resources so as to enable them develop solutions, especially in emerging market economies;
IV. Encouraged multiple stakeholder engagement in ICT policy making, regulatory practice and implementation; and
V. Agreed on the need for capacity building and public education on the various national initiatives and guidelines developed and required for public safety.
Against all odds including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministers and the Forum reaffirmed their commitment to better the continent through information and communication technologies.