AFRICAN LEADERS CONCLUDE CONSULTATIONS ON WAYS TO CONNECT RURAL COMMUNITIES IN FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE
Freetown, June 25, 2012 – A broad range of stakeholders concluded their 3-day consultation on effective ways of providing sustainable ICT connectivity for rural communities in Africa at the 7th Annual Connecting Rural Communities (CRC) Africa Forum of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation. Opening CRC Africa Forum 2012, HE the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, said the Government of Sierra Leone “view access to ICTs, telecommunication network services and functional postal services in both urban and rural areas as a sine qua non for effective functioning of governance” which remains an underlying need for almost all governments. The participation at the 2012 Forum reflected how important this need was felt by both the public sector and the private sector, with senior policy makers and regulators from a dozen countries together with private sector entities and social enterprises interacting on key issues impacting on rural connectivity. Hon Dr Samura Kamara, Minister of Finance of Sierra Leone and Hon Gorge Khaniri, Deputy Minister of Information and Communications of Kenya, together with a large number of parliamentarians represented the views and priorities of policy makers, while Dr. Eugene Juwah, Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communication Commission, Mr Mohamed Bangura, Director General of Sierra Leone’s National Telecommunications Commission, and Mr Isaac Boateng, the Deputy Manager of Ghana’s National Communications Authority, evaluated regulatory interventions required for sustainable rural connectivity such as infrastructure-sharing, effective spectrum-allocation and financial incentives. Subsequent sessions of the opening day examined relevant technologies and business models while the second day focused on bridging the investment gap through universal service funds and multi-stakeholder partnerships, culminating in a special session on ICT finance and investment in Sierra Leone facilitated by PriceWaterhouseCoopers on the last day. Delegates benefitted from the showcasing of a number of successful projects implemented in Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Lesotho and Sierra Leone. Hon Alhaji Ben Kargbo, the Minister of Information and Communications of Sierra Leone said it was opportune that Sierra Leone was able to host the 7th Connecting Rural Communities Africa Forum at a time when the country is embarking on a focused programme to provide ICT connectivity to all its people including its far flung rural communities. “Our latest achievement, the landing of the ACE cable, has opened a new window to the world,” he said, “and I look forward to a commensurate reduction of cost of international connectivity that will support our long term aim of equitable ICT access to all.” Prof Tim Unwin, the CEO of CTO added that “while the world speaks about ‘connectivity for all’, the CTO has graduated to a stage where we speak about ‘appropriate connectivity for all’ which brings into play a raft of policy, regulatory, technical and operational issues requiring an on-going dialogue between stakeholders. CRC Africa Forum is an important strand of that continuous dialogue, enriched by the experiences of our members and the organisation’s internal knowledge”. Prof Unwin added that “it was both a duty and a privilege for the CTO to hold the 7th event of this highly successful series in Sierra Leone, which has been a steadfast member of the CTO. The warm hospitality of Sierra Leone has made our stay a pleasant and a memorable experience for which I thank the Ministry of Information and Communications and the National Telecommunications Commission” The event was supported by Ericsson, Detecon International, Intelsat and 03B Networks together with local sponsors, Sierratel, Afcom, Airtel and Africell. The annual CRC Africa Forum was launched by the CTO in 2006 to assist Commonwealth Africa provide ICT connectivity to its rural communities, which continue to lag behind despite some impressive gains Africa has made in recent times. Since then CRC has become the central event to examine issues, exchange views and build relationships.