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Connect Africa opens; but is anyone listening?

Posted By TelecomTV One , 29 October 2007 | 0 Comments | (0)
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It was to be the first major initiative of new ITU secretary general, Dr. Hamadoun Toure – a forum to address the critical need for ICT in Africa. But as the Connect Africa plenary session commenced in the Rwandan capital of Kigali this morning, many delegates and almost the entire press corps were missing. Not the best way to get the news out there.

Having travelled for two days from South America to attend the event, the TelecomTV delegation found itself locked out of the conference, along with all the other press. We'd been accredited and given our shiny media badges, but a last minute change by the local authorities meant that our Access All Areas badges became ‘Access only the food and drink-free anteroom and watch via a rubbish streaming link’ badges. Cue considerable ill-feeling all round, and frantic actions by a completely sidelined ITU media team.

The reason for the sudden spasm of increased security was a keynote address from Rwandan President Paul Kagame – plus the unconfirmed (and obviously unseen) presence of various heads of state. We’ll find out what Mr. Kagame said later in the day, maybe.

Meanwhile, reports flooded in of delegates stuck at various airports, having flight reservations cancelled, and being turfed out of their booked hotel rooms (we suffered the same fate, as did a number of large NGOs and corporations). Rwandair tried its best to cope with the surge in traffic, but last night’s flight from Johannesburg was probably one too many and one too far for the fledgling operator – with half the luggage (including all our cases and TV equipment) left behind on the tarmac in South Africa. They might turn up today, but then again…

All this is an real shame, as the event needs to succeed. The objectives of Connect Africa are honourable.

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They recognise that the UN’s Millennium Development goals need to be achieved by 2015 – that's less than eight years away – and that without serious incentives and encouragement they will not be met. The Kigali event is therefore designed to launch a broader-reaching Connect Africa initiative, to work towards the 2015 goals through partnerships and industry collaborations.

The GSM Association announced that the mobile industry plans to invest more than US$50 billion in sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years to provide more than 90 per cent of the population with mobile coverage.

The investment will be used to extend the reach of GSM mobile networks, enhanced with GPRS, EDGE and HSPA technologies, to provide mobile multimedia services, including Internet access. The GSMA estimates that the mobile industry has invested $35 billion in the past seven years, providing more than 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa with mobile coverage.

We’ll bring you reports of developments during the two days of the Kigali summit and, if the airline actually delivers our lost kit, a filmed report on Friday’s Newsdesk programme. Rwanda is an amazing country, with so much positive development taking place, and it has the chance to be a major power in central and east Africa, despite its tiny size.

We will overlook the organisational chaos surrounding Connect Africa, so long as the assembled delegates do more than just talk and actually start to implement positive solutions to the continent’s problems.

Meantime, some advice we learned the hard way – don’t step on the red carpet at the Serena hotel, especially in clothes you have been wearing for three days straight and with a shiny metal badge that suddenly has been designated as being the wrong colour…..

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