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Africa Watch

COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES: Mobile phone explosion in Africa
Africa Renewal
From Africa Renewal: 

In December the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported that mobile phone subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa grew at more than twice the global average over the past eight years — from 11 mn in 2000 to a remarkable 246 mn at the end of 2008, the most recent year for which data is available. As a result, the ITU noted, 32.6 per cent of all inhabitants in the region — nearly one in every three — now has wireless telephone access, with service available in a far greater number of countries than in previous years.


Although the continent still lags behind the rest of the world in the number of subscriptions per person, the ITU report said, the steady growth in the use of mobile phones had “defied all predictions.” Falling costs and increased investment in infrastructure and innovative banking, education and health applications, it predicted, would fuel continued strong growth in the industry.

Internet access also grew strongly, from 3 mn subscriptions in 2000 to 32 mn in 2008, the ITU found, although most users still connect through slow and unreliable telephone lines. The high cost and scarcity of fibre-optic connections limits access to faster and more capable Internet broadband cable services. Wireless broadband, however, introduced in Africa in 2004, is expanding rapidly, with 7 million subscribers in 12 countries by the end of 2008. With its comparatively low cost and strong mobile subscriber base, the ITU observed, “mobile broadband has the potential of becoming Africa’s main broadband Internet access method in the future.”

Developing country ties grow

Economic growth and the emergence of environmental, financial and security challenges requiring collective action are fuelling an unprecedented surge in cooperation between developing countries, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said at a UN High Level Conference on South-South Cooperation held 1–3 December in Nairobi, Kenya.

Speaking at the opening, the former Tanzanian foreign minister told delegates that millions of people have already been lifted out of poverty. She also noted that “new Southern poles of growth now exist in trade, finance and technology, signalling the emergence of a new community of countries with formidable economic strength and tremendous potential to advance their well-being further.”

Development works best when countries expand regional trade and investment, she noted. “Vibrant regional neighbourhoods pay handsome dividends, including jobs, increased productivity and better living standards.”

Trade among developing countries has grown by an average 13.4 per cent annually for more than a decade, topping $2,400 bn in 2007, about 20 per cent of the world total.         


The UN Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria as the new joint special representative of the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). Mr. Gambari has held numerous UN positions, serving most recently as the Secretary-General’s special advisor on the International Compact with Iraq and other political issues, including on Myanmar. In 2005 he was under-secretary-general for political affairs and prior to that under-secretary-general and special adviser on Africa. A former external affairs minister of Nigeria, he also served as Nigeria’s permanent representative to the UN.

Ms. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental activist, has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as a UN messenger of peace, with a special focus on the environment and climate change. Ms. Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, founded the grassroots Green Belt Movement in 1977. She was elected to the Kenyan parliament in 2002, and in 2005 served as her country’s assistant minister for environment, natural resources and wildlife.

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has appointed Mr. Yukiya Amano of Japan as the agency’s new director general, with the approval of the IAEA’s General Conference. Prior to this appointment, Mr. Amano served as ambassador of Japan to International Organizations in Vienna, and as an IAEA governor. He also held a variety of senior positions in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, relating to scientific and arms control issues.

Mr. Hany Abdel-Aziz of Egypt has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as his special representative for Western Sahara and head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Previously, Mr. Abdel-Aziz was a director in the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). He has served the UN for some 25 years, including in eight peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.

Health Campaign