[INTERVIEW] Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) opening Africa up more seriously to ICT
This week Africa Business Communities meet with Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO). He talks about CTO's involvement in the Telecommunications development and business in Africa.
He is a former Minister of Communication of the Republic of Ghana and one-time Ambassador of Ghana to the United States and Mexico. He also served as Minister of Education, Minister responsible for Mines and Energy and as a member of UNESCO’s Executive Board in Paris. Before his appointment at the CTO, he was Chief Executive of his own business consulting firm, Spio-Garbrah & Associates, based in Ghana. As a Minister of Communication of Ghana, from 1997 to 1998, Dr Spio-Garbrah initiated, developed and implemented policies and programmes that supported the increasing convergence of telecommunications, broadcasting, the Internet, publishing, news media and postal services, all of which were under his supervision. Concurrently, as chairman of the National Communication Authority, he had responsibility for regulating all aspects of the telecom, Internet and broadcasting sectors.
Kindly tell us what the CTO about?
"The CTO is an inter-governmental organization which provides technical assistance services to its member countries through research and studies, consultancies and advisory services, capacity building and training workshops, and through knowledge-sharing events. With a history dating back to 1901, the CTO is a partnership between the Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth governments, regulators, businesses, civil society organizations and other ICT stakeholders. The CTO’s mission is to reduce global poverty through the more efficient utilization of ICTs, and its development agenda reflects the priorities set in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)."
What does it hope to achieve?
"The CTO's vision is to become the pre-eminent international ICT organisation dedicated to promoting social and economic development in the Commonwealth and beyond by helping to bridge the digital divide and achieve social and economic development. We try to fulfil this vision through a range of research and studies, certificated training and capacity building workshops, consultancy and advisory services and a number of commercial conferences on selected topical themes. These unique knowledge-sharing programmes focus on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the specific areas of telecommunications, IT, broadcasting and the Internet. The CTO's mission statements, as outlined below, help to guide it towards achieving this vision: Offer the highest quality programmes for capacity development, knowledge sharing and information services to member countries; Deepen, expand and diversify the partnerships between governments, businesses and other organisations to reduce global poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals for ICT; Help bridge the digital and knowledge divide especially in the five key sectors of food and agriculture (e-nutrition), education (distance learning), health (telemedicine), e-government and e-commerce; Facilitate the successful development of telecommunications and other businesses to support social and economic development objectives of governments and civil society. Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation."
What has the CTO contributed to the Telecommunications, IT, Broadcasting and the Internet in Africa?
"Over 30-40% of people in most of the CTO member countries are yet to be able to access affordable telecommunications, including mobile communications. This also means that more than 90% of the population in most developing countries are yet to enjoy the benefits of the Internet. As the UN family increasingly comes to accept the right to communicate as a basic human right, these realities regarding the work that remains to be done—in spite of the wonderful achievements chalked already—remains a blight on the global telecom community. It is partly to help to address this particular aspect of the prevailing digital divide that the CTO over the last few years has concentrated on the subject matter of rural communications. The Commonwealth African Rural Connectivity Initiative (COMARCI), for example, has examined the state of rural connectivity in the eighteen Commonwealth African countries, identified some useful lessons from the experiences of five comparator non-African countries (the USA, Canada, Australia, India, and Malaysia) and presented to the ICT community some ideas for the way forward. At some ten separate regional conferences on the subject of Connecting Rural Communities in Asia and in Africa since 2005, we have examined the key policies, regulations, legislation, business models, operating environment, technologies, financing schemes and Public-Private-People’s Partnerships (PPPPs—4Ps) that could facilitate greater ICT access to rural and disadvantaged communities. In Nigeria last year, we held six local workshops, some of which drew between 400 to 600 community leaders, to forge the 4Ps. In similar workshops in Sierra Leone, some six Cabinet ministers joined about 250 community leaders in March 2010 to consider such partnerships. In Ghana, two workshops were held in Sunyani and Ho last year. Several other African countries are awaiting similar interventions by the CTO. This year, a three-day workshop on Managing Universal Service Funds was organised by the CTO in Cameroon, which drew on success stories in Latin America and Africa and helped to develop a plan for Cameroon, taking into account their country-specific needs and resources. One of the best mechanisms for collaboration amongst its members that the CTO has invented over the last decade is the commercial event. During this period, the CTO has organised between eight to ten self-supporting commercial events each year on topics and themes of great relevance to the ICT aspirations of member countries. Funded principally through commercial sponsorships, delegates attendance fees, and some host country support, many of these CTO events have become a staple of the CTO operational year. During this period such popular events as the Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum (DBSF), e-Gov Africa and Connecting Rural Communities Africa were organised by the CTO across Commonwealth African countries. Such events and conferences have brought together not only the Africa ICT community on a single platform, but also multinational organisations looking to do business in Africa, thus helping to mobilise international private funding to accelerate e-readiness in these emerging markets. CTO events have also become an important conduit through which a number of companies and institutions have chosen to join the CTO, especially as sector members, after recognising the reach and latent potency of the organisation. Companies such as Ericsson, Nokia, Research in Motion (makers of Blackberry phones) have joined the CTO, although their countries of origin, such as Finland and Sweden are not Commonwealth countries. This shows how the CTO extends itself beyond the traditional Commonwealth, which can in turn be beneficial to Africa. Conferences such as the © Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation. Cybersecurity Forum, and Investing in Emerging Markets in London also enabled officials of member African entities to meet at various forums, exchange knowledge on best practices, and obtain the insights of various experts on key subjects. We also collaborate with various industry associations and organisations, such as the ITU, to organise periodic joint events on broadband and standardisation, and the use of ICT to manage the negative impact of disasters in Africa. In the area of research, studies, advisory services and consultancies, the ground-breaking ICT Connectivity conference in Juba, South Sudan, as well as the follow-up strategic planning consultancy awarded by the Government of South Sudan to the CTO, were amongst major highlights of the year. The CTO’s training and capacity-building programmes are becoming increasingly popular as the increasing demand for this service proves. Its spread of courses embrace all aspects of ICTs, from Next Generation Networks to telecom management; and address the needs of the whole spectrum of stakeholders from regulators to operators; while taking into account the priorities of each of the member countries. In an industry uniquely typified by rapid and constant change, CTO training and capacity-building programmes allow governments, regulatory agencies and operators to stay abreast of new technologies, market changes and best practices. As part of our mission to offer the highest quality programmes for capacity development, knowledge sharing and information services to member countries, and despite the prevailing economic recession, we have facilitated, and in most cases fully funded access to our programmes. Over fifty courses were organised across different locations in Africa over the past year alone. The CTO’s HR4ICT annual conference is designed to address the rapid evolution of network technologies and their applications and how they are forcing operators and other stakeholders to change the way they operate, and consequently, how they recruit, develop, deploy, retain and manage their human resources. The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation continues to carry out a series of capacity building workshops across Africa to facilitate stakeholder engagement, to create new connectivity and provide value added services to communities in Africa."
As a Ghanaian, tell us in what ways can the CTO contribute to developing the Telecom and IT sectors in Ghana?
"Although I am a Ghanaian, it is important that you understand that I am foremost an international civil servant with a responsibility to offer equal service to all CTO member countries. As an inter-governmental organisation in the ICT field, part of the CTO’s strength and reach lies in its ability to cooperate closely with other international, regional and sub-regional bodies, especially those whose mandate is focussed on the use of ICTs for development. This helps us in establishing long-term relationships and partnerships between governments and organisations in Ghana and the rest of the world. Our programmes promote public-private-people’s partnerships, which is essential to building the social and economic development and paving the way for investors and industry participants to see sufficient returns. © Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation. CTO events and conferences across the globe, including those in Ghana, are represented by Commonwealth Ministries. These promise to be an engaging forum in identifying regulatory, technical, financial and social challenges in providing connectivity in Africa. The conferences bring together leaders and decision makers, including organisations, regulatory authorities and dignitaries of Ghana, face-to-face with global ICT stakeholders, thus opening opportunities for potential projects and businesses in Ghana. In August 2010, for example, the CTO in partnership with the Ghana’s Ministry of Communications (MOC), its National Communications Authority (NCA) and the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC), organised the 5th annual Connecting Rural Community 2010 conference in Accra, Ghana. The conference, which focused on rural connectivity, provided a platform for high-profile attendees to discuss and deliberate ICT issues, share experiences and learn from others experiences, and exchange business cards for potential business development. Such networking platforms help to establish Ghana in the eyes of the global market. Prior to that conference, the CTO organised two workshops in Sunyani and Ho, which attracted about 150 delegates each drawn from parliament, civil society, traditional rulers, teachers, market queens, religious leaders, civil servants and ICT operating companies to examine new business models for improving rural access to ICTs. In August last year, the CTO organised in Accra an Annual General Meeting of the African Universal Service and Access Funding Association (AUSAFA), which elected Ghana as a Vice Chair of the organisation aimed to promote cooperation amongst institutions established to promote connectivity to the undeserved and marginalised communities. In March this year, I made a presentation at the Ministry of Communications in Accra to ICT agencies and financial institutions that could become shareholders, investors and technical partners in the Commonwealth Telecommunications Development Fund (CTDF), which is being set up to raise as much as US$ 300 million to champion the drive towards increased broadband services to rural communities. The CTDF, when established, will benefit developing economies, including Ghana. The Fund will help support the basic objectives of providing ICT development in underserved regions, and will help provide access to fast-growing, profitable wireless telecom projects. As you may have heard, all countries around the world have agreed to move to digital broadcasting standards in within this decade. In furtherance of that global objective, the CTO organised a workshop on Digital Switchover for the National Digital Broadcasting Migration Technical Committee of Ghana. Over the last two years, we have been engaged in are just about to conclude a consultancy assignment to support the strategic planning process for National Communications Authority of Ghana out of which a 3-year Strategic Plan has been produced for the NCA. Beyond these recent specific interventions, it is instructive to note that more than 1000 ICT professionals in Ghana have received various kinds of professional training from the CTO over the last 30 years, including scholarships for academic studies."
What are some of CTO’s major projects in Africa?
"The CTO launched the Commonwealth African Rural Connectivity Initiative (COMARCI), under a mandate issued by the Commonwealth Heads of Government in 2007 to ensure that the vast majority of people in Africa who lack basic connectivity are provided the means to enjoy the benefits of the ICT revolution, including education, health, jobs and agricultural information by facilitating sustainable and innovative solutions for ICT access. During Phase One of COMARCI, the CTO studied the status of access in eighteen African countries, particularly their policy and regulatory regimes, use of innovative technologies and business models for rural access. All eighteen countries were analysed alongside the best practices found in five comparator countries (Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia and the US), together with innovative technologies and novel business models that have had proven impact on rural ICT connectivity. This resulted in the publication of the Report on African Rural Connectivity. Recently, the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) completed a study, commissioned by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), to help improve the use of mobile telephony for international development. The Mobiles4Dev study is expected to help UNICEF fulfil its mission to advocate for the protection of children's rights, help meet their basic needs and expand opportunities to reach their full potential. The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s (CTO) was also contracted a project by NATCOM, the Sierra Leone ICT regulator, to develop and present a Rural ICT Access Gap Study for the benefit of the management and a number of key stakeholders, including the country’s mobile and fixed line operators. The final report expected to be used to catalyse the necessary investment and achieve Universal Access."
What is your take on the condemnation of international call monitoring in Ghana by the West African Telecommunications Conference?
"I am not sure of which conference you are referring to, as I don’t know of a West African Telecom Conference. Several conferences are held each year in West African countries that present themselves as being for Africa or for West Africa. I also do not know of any organisation(s) that are condemning international call monitoring in Ghana. However, I am aware that in a number of countries, including Ghana, some governments have decided to install equipment to enable regulators to obtain greater accuracy in monitoring international voice and data traffic. These interventions are done often because governments may have evidence or suspicion of fraud on the networks, where incoming or outgoing calls are diverted from official networks onto unofficial ones, leading to losses of revenues for licensed operators as well as to government through lost taxes. I recognise too that in some countries, ordinary citizens are concerned that certain kinds of equipment can be installed that may listen in to private conversations, often for political purposes or even for espionage. All these concerns are legitimate, and it is up to the officials of each country and enlightened citizens to ensure that governments do the right thing, and that legitimate and lawful interventions by government are not misconstrued for unlawful intercept or abused for private political vendettas. In many cases, ensure legality requires close consultation between government, regulators, legislators, operators, human rights advocates and organised consumer groups."
How do you perceive doing business in Africa?
"Africa is currently a very attractive market for many a global organisation looking to invest and expand their business. In return, Africa too has many offerings and has opened its doors to foreign investment to improve socio-economic development. However, in order to use ICTs effectively and to develop a knowledge economy, Africa needs to combine the best practices in economic management with good governance and prudent resource management alongside human capital development and domestic and foreign investment mobilisation. It is important to lay policy objectives that will provide as many Africans with affordable and reliable ICT access as possible. One of the basic requirements of doing business is Internet and broadband access. This needs to be improved tremendously to make doing business easier and to get businesses in Africa to operate in a global market. Above all, no matter how much we invest in ICTs and in capacity-building for quick adoption and use of ICTs for e-enablement, without a secure and resilient infrastructure, there can be no e-sustainability. There is a need for a robust and dynamic policy framework. With much of the Cyber fraud originating from Africa, there is a need for Governments to come up with stricter policies and necessary cybersecurty measures need to be put in place. Thus a strong, responsible and transparent ICT regulatory regime needs to be established to create trust and confidence in global players wanting to set up business in Africa. Then when good policies and effective regulations have fostered competition, lower costs and greater ICT access, we need enlightened governments to work hard to harness the great human resource potential of Africa by networking the minds of Africans, both those
in their own countries as well as those in the Diaspora who often have good ideas, great exposure and relevant experience to help accelerate Africa’s development."
CTO is an old body since 1901, how has it reformed to current trends?
"In an era of the continuously declining relevance of physical distances thanks to ICTs, the relevance of an organisation such as the CTO is on the other hand increasing. The challenge facing the CTO today is to adapt to the changing operating environment and changing stakeholder priorities. The progress made by CTO since its inception a hundred years ago and the adaptations it has managed during that time, is sufficient evidence of the capacity of the Organisation to manage change. Over the past century, the CTO has evolved from an infrastructure provisioning company to an accounting rates settlement entity, to a training and capacity organisation, and now to a multipurpose ICT collaborative institution. With the increasing commercialisation and growth of the ICT sector in member countries, the CTO is also adapting itself to respond to this growing reality. At the request of Management, the CTO Council has approved the establishment of a new commercial subsidiary called CTO-Ventures (CTO-V), which is establishing a number of strategic partnerships involving equity positions in and with a number of partners. CTO-V is expected to soon launch a global mobile data platform and services on a commercial basis. There are nearly ten other products and services that CTO-V intends to launch over the next 3-5 years, to make it a venerable cash-cow of the CTO family. This commercial subsidiary of the CTO will take up a growing list of equity share opportunities that are often offered to the CTO to support a number of small to medium size companies that wish to expand internationally, often in emerging markets. The CTO, as indicated earlier, is currently in the midst of mobilising as much as US$ 300 million over the next few years from both public and private sector sources to invest in a Commonwealth Telecom Development Fund—which should make our member countries even more capable of e-transformation. It is therefore hoped that the investments to be made by the CTDF will contribute to the rapid growth of member countries especially those in Africa."
If you wish to keep in touch with Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, view his LinkedIn profile on http://uk.linkedin.com/in/espiog.
This article was originally posted on Africa ICT & Telecom Network