South Africa key to continent’s ICT development

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 30 Apr 2024
John Omo, secretary-general of the African Telecommunications Union. (Photograph by ITU)
John Omo, secretary-general of the African Telecommunications Union. (Photograph by ITU)

South Africa needs to scale up its role in international ICT diplomacy, says John Omo, secretary-general (SG) of the African Telecommunications Union.

Omo made this plea while delivering his virtual address during the communications department’s celebration of 30 years of collaboration and growth in the ICT industry.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies on Friday hosted an event to mark 30 years of the ICT industry’s transformation as part of the 30th Freedom Day anniversary.

Omo noted certain challenges continue to be of concern for the African continent, including development of policies on ICT, standardisation of telecoms and ICT equipment, and the adoption of communications standards.

“Increasingly, we see over-reliance on European, American or Anglo-Saxon centric thought processes in various shades and shapes. We seem to have fallen for endless talk, endless events and meetings.

“We need to realise that nobody will give you lunch for free all the time. I’m convinced this challenge – with South Africa leading – will require bold steps that will galvanise the support of African organisations in developing African-centric policies and processes that truly meet the development of ICT in Africa.”

The ATU is a specialised organ of the Africa Union in the field of ICT, whose mandate is to promote communications development in Africa for universal access.

Omo noted that similar to how it has done in the past, the ATU recognises the strategic position SA occupies in advancing Africa’s digital connectivity.

“South Africa’s entry into the BRICS in 2010 marked a major milestone for Africa, as it opened Africa to new markets and development partners.

“South Africa has been an active member of international ICT organisations and has taken the place in leading and chairing a number of international ICT organisations and forums.

The ATU SG reflected on the place of telecommunications and ICT in advancing human rights and liberties, saying these tools have allowed citizens equal access and use of digital services for self-actualisation.

“This is imperative and we must all commit to upholding this. Digitally marginalised people cannot effectively improve their conditions, nor can they meaningfully contribute to nation-building in whatever manner in this fast-evolving world in which we live.

“Freedom and development areinseparable, and ICTs lie at the fulcrum of both. With data showing that SA runs highest in internet connectivity in Sub-Saharan Africa, that the country has the largest square metres of data centres in the region and has zero coverage gap, it is reassuring to note SA is on the right track.

“The zero coverage is an opportunity to boost the usage gap and achieve universal access.”

Omo concluded that the ATU appreciates the support offered by SA’s government to the union’s activities since becoming a member-state.

“The union appreciates the continued collaboration to ensure that together, we contribute to enhancing the development of ICTs for the benefit of our people.”