Bringing together sector players in the ICT field, the 2023 African Telecommunications/ICT Day drew a sharp focus on the digital divide in Africa – a phenomenon used to refer to the socio-economic and geographical disparities in access to and usage of ICTs, hindering equitable participation in the digital era.
The event, marked annually on December 7th, and dedicated to celebrating the achievements and advancements in the field of telecommunications/ICTs across the African continent, this year, focused on addressing accessibility factors that are key to digital inclusion.
Held online and hosted by the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), the event was headlined by the Director of the Telecommunications Standardization Bureau at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Mr. Seizo ONOE.
Mr. ONOE called on sector players to ensure that digital technology achieves its potential – which he said is heavily dependent on the success of improving digital inclusion. He also decried that although 5G coverage has expanded to reach almost 40 per cent of the world’s population, 5G is nearly absent in low-income countries.
“We can never forget that one-third of the global population, about 2.6 billion people, are not yet online,” he said, further comparing this scenario to the situation with 5G where 89 per cent of people in high-income countries are covered by 5G networks, and Africa lags behind.
Event host, ATU Secretary General called on the private sector to work together with the public sector and help close this gap. “There is a need for more partnerships in availing of various types of resources that are necessary for connectivity. We will do all it takes to unlock the connectivity challenges in the continent,” he said.
For the first time, ATU opted not to organize a ministerial roundtable forum during the December 7th event, deviating from the customary involvement of government ministers overseeing the ICT sector. Instead, the private sector took the forefront with industry leaders such as Amazon, Qualcomm, Meta, and the African Advanced Level Telecommunications Institute (AFRALTI) leading the session.
The celebration came just months after a new report by the GSMA estimated that Africa’s population with access to mobile broadband has more than tripled from 114 million to about 400 million in the last ten years. Additionally, the continent has witnessed increased internet penetration, ownership of digital devices, and adoption of emerging technologies.
Ms. Nina Beebe, Senior Advisor of Amazon’s International Regulatory Team, urged industry stakeholders to establish stable and secure networks, emphasizing the need for “reasonable spectrum fees, cost reduction for end users, an acknowledgement that governments should avoid unnecessary requirements, and the assurance that satellite technologies deliver substantial capacity.”