ITU Connect2Recover to boost Africa’s post-COVID connectivity

Read time 3min 40sec
ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao.
ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has launched the Connect2Recover Initiative, which will initially focus on Africa, helping the continent accelerate digital transformation post-COVID-19.

The ITU says Africa is the least connected continent, and is expected to be hit hardest by COVID-19 in socio-economic terms. It adds that Connect2Recover reinforces long-standing efforts to accelerate digital transformation on the continent and help achieve long-term development goals.

At the launch of the initiative last week, the world telecommunications body noted that out of the 25 least connected countries in the world, 21 are in Africa, with nearly 300 million Africans living more than 50km from a fibre or cable broadband connection.

“Access to high-speed Internet thus remains out of reach for many Africans, hindering their ability to fully harness the potential of digital transformation,” says the ITU.

It notes that Connect2Recover seeks to expand access to affordable and reliable connectivity, which is an essential aspect of countries' COVID-19 recovery strategies.

ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao explains: “The ITU, and the wider international community, is transitioning from aiding countries with their immediate response to COVID-19, to helping countries prepare for and adjust to a ‘new normal’.

“As the United Nations is calling on its member states to ‘build back better’, Connect2Recover represents the ITU's contribution by facilitating socio-economic recovery through the use of digital infrastructure, services and applications, thanks to the generous support of the Japanese government and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Connect2Recover is backed by the ministry of internal affairs and communications of Japan and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre of Saudi Arabia.

In a statement, the ITU says COVID-19 has highlighted that digital infrastructure is not just a convenience but an essential requirement for fully-fledged participation in society and the economy.

“Broadband connectivity has proved vital in helping countries' businesses and citizens adapt and respond to the pandemic, enabling them to access the latest health information and continue working, learning and socialising remotely.”

How it works

The Connect2Recover initiative will consist of three key elements.

First, the initiative will develop a methodology for identifying gaps and bottlenecks in the use of digital networks and technologies at country level; to respond to and mitigate the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as preparedness for any similar emergencies in the future; and to enable recovery and readiness for the ‘new normal’.

According to the ITU, on the basis of this methodology, Connect2Recover will also assist countries in assessing their needs, gaps and bottlenecks, and develop strategies to ensure the digital infrastructure and ecosystems adequately support recovery efforts and the ‘new normal’.

“These strategies will be designed in line with global best practices, as well as with other relevant policy tools developed by ITU and other relevant organisations.”

Lastly, the ITU says, Connect2Recover will conceptualise and implement pilot projects to test specific technological solutions in line with national country strategies and policies.

“The project will also undertake deep-dive studies in specific areas of digital policy as prioritised by the selected countries, such as digital finance, e-education, e-health, e-government, or teleworking.”

Minoru Terada, state minister for internal affairs and communications of Japan, comments on the initiative: "Digital technology is playing a vital role to respond to and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Under these circumstances, our project aims at improving the connectivity through the development of resilient broadband networks to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among African countries."

"COVID-19 has demonstrated the vital importance of meaningful connectivity and it has also served as a wake-up call to the global community to renew efforts to connect the 3.6 billion people still offline," says Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU telecommunication development bureau.

"Connect2Recover represents a first step in our journey to recovery and preparedness. I applaud the commitment of Japan and Saudi Arabia, and I invite all stakeholders to join this initiative to help advance real and rapid progress for all."

See also