Connect Africa Summit

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Connect Africa Summit Kigali, 29 October 2007

President Kagame,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am truly honoured to join you today on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, and to deliver his message to you. I quote:

“It is a great pleasure to send my greetings to this Connect Africa Summit. On behalf of the United Nations family, I express my appreciation to President Kagame and the Government of Rwanda for hosting the Summit at this strategic time.

I commend Dr. Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Communication Union, for his leadership. Thanks also go to Dr. Craig Barrett of the Intel Corporation and Chairman of the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development, for mobilizing the private sector, and to the World Bank for its commitment to connecting Africa.

This meeting illustrates the power and potential of public-private partnerships. It joins together the African Union, the African Development Bank, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, African governments and the private sector to address the barriers to connectivity in the region.

The partnership augurs well for the hopes and aspirations of all of the people of Africa for a better future. The World Summit on the Information Society set a clear course of action for advancing the Information Society and for achieving the Millennium Development Goals – our common vision to build a better world for all in the 21st century.

Narrowing the digital divide is part and parcel of our global efforts to achieve development for all. Information and communication technologies have much to contribute to the fight against poverty, disease, hunger, illiteracy and environmental degradation.

They can empower women and poor people in underserved communities.

They enable young people everywhere to more effectively act as catalysts for change – locally and globally.

And they can accelerate progress towards our development goals by improving the efficiency and accountability of governments, facilitating the delivery of health services, nurturing and disseminating knowledge and education, and creating business opportunities for entrepreneurs.

These benefits must be made available to all segments of society, in urban and rural areas, and in all regions, especially in Africa, the one region not on track to meet the Goals by 2015. That is why we must redouble our efforts and form a true partnership for development. The Goals can still be achieved if we all work together – governments of rich and poor countries alike, civil society, the private sector, and the international development community.

To help fill the implementation gaps in Africa, I recently convened the Millennium Development Goals Africa Steering Group, bringing together leaders of major multilateral and intergovernmental development organizations. The Group is focusing on three major challenges: identifying effective mechanisms for implementing commitments in the areas of health, education, agriculture and food security, infrastructure, and statistical systems; improving aid predictability and effectiveness; and strengthening our joint efforts at the country level.

Information and communication technologies can be key enablers for meeting each of these challenges. I am encouraged by your determination to act, as evidenced by your engagement in this Summit, with its focus on implementation.

Together, let us harness the power of information and communications technologies to advance our shared objective of ending the scourge of poverty once and for all, in Africa and around the world.

I wish you every success at this forum, and I look forward to learning about its outcome.”

This concludes the Secretary-General’s message.

Let me tell you, from the perspective of someone who works directly for him, as head of the UN’s main development department: Secretary-General Ban is deeply committed to Africa and to development. And he is determined to see that the United Nations serves and supports Africa and the people of Africa as best it can.

I fully share this commitment – and not simply because the Secretary-General is my boss! If the development agenda of the United Nations means anything, it means development for all. And it is here, in Africa, where lie some of the greatest challenges – and opportunities – to achieve this great goal.

Over the next few days, this important gathering will examine some of the success stories, where ICT has been put in the service of development for all. Telemedicine projects that extend health care delivery to rural areas hard-hit by natural disasters, disease or the acute shortage of qualified medical personnel. E-learning that brings world-class knowledge and skills to African students. E-government initiatives that streamline procedures, increase transparency, accountability and citizen’s participation.

Together, the stories suggest strong cause for hope.

The question becomes scalability: how to bring about the large-scale adoption of ICTs that will put African countries on a sustainable path towards knowledge-based societies and prosperous economies. This will require action by all stakeholders, from the grassroots communities to the local, national and regional governmental institutions, the private sector, international organizations and donor agencies – each playing to its complementary strengths within the strategic framework of the internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs.

However, a true knowledge-based economy will not happen without a critical mass of ICT-skilled workers, not only to develop and sustain the infrastructure that is our focus today, but also to innovate and provide support to local entrepreneurs.

This means that economic reform and the creation of an enabling environment for investment needs to be accompanied by the acquisition of crucial ICT tools and skills and by building and strengthening the abilities of African governments to develop and use e-applications to serve their citizens. It means investing not only in African infrastructure for ICT but also, and especially, in its human resources.

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and especially the Global Alliance for ICT and Development, will work closely with the International Telecommunications Union and other key organizations of the United Nations system, as well as the private sector, to pursue the idea of pulling our capacities and knowledge together, through the development of a consortium for capacity building in Africa focused on training for education, health, e-governance and e-entrepreneurship.

Grassroots communities and civil society and have a very important role to play. These actors can, in a culturally sensitive manner, raise people’s awareness of new technologies and the benefits that they can bring, with a special focus on the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups such as the poor, the illiterate, older persons, women, youth and people with disabilities.

Following on the multi-stakeholder approach of the World Summit on the Information Society, this Connect Africa Summit seeks to create partnerships for action. Looking at the diverse participation in this room, including among us African decision-makers at the highest level, I am profoundly encouraged.

We must capitalize on this momentum, and convergence of goodwill and common interest, to ensure that Africa has the capacity, from within, to fully take ownership of its development agenda and guarantee its sustainability, for all.

Thank you.