Destination Africa for the 2021 World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21)

Destination Africa for the 2021 World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21)

Theme: “Connecting the Unconnected to Achieve Sustainable Development”

For the first time, Africa will host the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21) from 8th-19th November 2021 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. With a lot in store for the continent, Africa looks to supporting the preparation and participation of the continent in the event with the aim of ensuring the achievement of favourable outcomes based on the key areas of; digital transformation including building of digital economies and fostering of innovation; promotion of emerging broadband technologies; the building of trust and security in the use of telecommunications/information and communication technology; strengthening human and institutional capacity; management and monitoring of the radio frequency spectrum as well as transition to digital broadcasting.

With the conference now only eight months away, collaborations at the regional level are in top gear; the idea being to identify and discuss key issues within the region as part of setting the priorities for Africa for the period 2022-2025. Equally put on the spotlight are ICT trends, the digital ecosystem and transformation that can help bridge the digital divide in the continent as well as the need to showcase the many ICT success stories that are within the region.

Speaking during the 1st ATU consultative meeting on WTDC-21 preparations, the ATU consultant on WTDC-21 preparations Mr. Abdulkarim Oloyede provided a comprehensive outlook on what needs to be done by ICT stakeholders in Africa to ensure successful outcomes for the continent. He highlighted the importance of first ensuring that there is robust reporting on the implementation of the outcomes of WTDC-17 during the WTDC-21 preparatory meetings to both set the pace for the continent and ensure proper mapping of where Africa stands and what the future needs are. Echoing the Union’s desire, he urged Members to have the youth and the women fittingly represented in every step of the process especially given that the youth are looking forward to being part of WTDC for the first time.

“Once we have identified and agreed on our common priorities as a region, we can then also build consensus on matters such as resolutions, study group Questions and maybe inputs into the ITU strategic plan,” said Mr. Abdulkarim Oloyede. Stakeholders too have been called upon to submit their input to the African common proposals as early as possible in the hope of having a common endorsement. It is also anticipated that the working groups at Regional Preparatory meeting (RPM) should develop a consensus document and agree on the criteria for deciding what would amount to a consensus even as the region appoints focal persons to present and follow each proposal at WTDC.

Mr. Oloyede’s sentiments are born out of the need to have strategies and plans for commonly agreed positions and agreements by the continent before the conference. Today, admittedly, it is important for Africa as a continent to analyze the work of the study groups to establish how effectively the issues raised at the previous conference have been resolved with the main objective being to use the preparatory meetings to form common priorities and create as much value as possible for the African continent before and during WTDC-21.

The consultant further advised that breaking down responsibilities and assigning them to different groups will also ensure that all the planned actions and activities for a successful WTDC-21 especially for the African continent are fully achieved. Therefore, as a recommendation, Africa should have the following working groups whose focus will be on various aspects that are key to the successful outcome for the continent. These are, TDAG working groups on; Working Methods and Addis Ababa; Declarations, Action Plans and Regional initiatives and a Working Group on regional priorities including general ICT development issues and programs as well as Study group questions. The Working Groups are to have an appointed chair and two vice chairs with an open membership to Member States, Sector Members and others. The groups will be expected to meet in between and during regional preparatory meetings and make recommendations to the plenary of the African Region Preparatory Meeting.

Based on the TDAG recommendations, interregional meetings are highly encouraged in an effort to improve the preparatory process so that it can deliver results and foster consensus ahead of WTDC-21. It was also suggested that the RTOs should be invited to share their views a day after each regional preparatory meeting and that the ITU interregional meetings should be on all matters that need interregional consensus. Further, it was recommended that inter-sectoral matters should be discussed in the inter-regional meetings.

Although the regional and inter regional meetings are not binding on the Member States, going forward, it important for Africa as a region to decide on how many regional preparatory meetings will be held, the number of representatives from the region to attend interregional meetings and coordinators from Africa for each topic on the conference agenda. Additionally, Africa will have to create a calendar for the WTDC preparatory process taking into account the ITU-led and the regional telecommunication organizations preparatory processes. This means that proper planning and coordination within a region and inter regionally will be required as this will be crucial to the sustainability of the preparatory process.

In sharing their feedback with the African Telecommunication Union, Members welcomed the proposed preparation structure and applauded the Chairs and Vice-Chairs appointed to lead the works of the 2 established ATU working Groups for WTDC-21 preparations that are tasked with developing the African common proposals and positions (AFCPs) for WTDC-21 and ensure effective outcomes for Africa. Members expressed their willingness and determination to engage and support the initiatives and activities. Responding to the issues regarding the ITU-D strategic plan, members felt that the Strategic Plan should still be discussed at the conference as there is usually low participation in inter-regional meetings compared to the actual conference. Regarding the issue of consensus on African common proposals, members were in agreement to retain the normal approach that is usually taken to achieve consensus which is to have 15 countries present and supporting the proposals during the ATU preparatory meetings. As the meeting ended, ATU welcomed the members to continue sharing their feedback and start working on the common African proposals.

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