ICT Indaba

Connecting SA to the world

The potential to connect SA to the world is infinite and priceless
“For the record, through the Africa Connect goals adopted by the African Union Heads of State and Government, we have committed ourselves to be in the forefront of the information revolution.” 

These were the opening words of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe addressing the opening of the Information Communication Technology Indaba that took place in Cape Town in May this year.

Investors in ICT keenly followed a new BRICS development centring on a proposed undersea cable that would link Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa with the United States – a highlight of the conference that brought together business and government leaders from across the globe. 

The move appeared to signify both the importance of BRICS in the new emerging global economic make-up as well as the commitment to greater political co-operation to drive economic expansion. 

Business executive and i3 Africa chairman Andrew Mthembu told Sapa numerous investment parties are showing interest in the BRICS cable project. 

“To date, a total of ten non-disclosure agreements have been signed by global and South African telecommunication operators”. In an information age, access to info has an important relationship on access to the market as a whole – and thus remains a cornerstone of economic empowerment and innovation. 

According to Business Report, the 34,000km fibre-optic cable, with 12.8 terabits per second capacity, was expected to be online by 2014 – with the ambition of connecting the West Africa Cable System, the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System and Seacom and “opening up access between BRICS and 21 African countries”.

The gap between possibility and the current status quo remains a large one, given rates and quality of connectivity. However, the gap is as much a socio-economic one as it is an investment prospect, drawing keen interest from industry. 

In this light political posturing appeared absent as the deputy president acknowledged only 5.7% of the population of Africa currently has access to the Internet. He added that “in global comparison, while Africa accounts for 14% of the world population, only 3.6% of Iinternet subscribers are Africans”.

The deputy president’s tone set a clear agenda throughout the summit drawing on a sentiment of government and private sector co-operation.

Motlanthe was forthright in affirming the hosting of the ICT Indaba on the African continent as “a valuable platform upon which African countries and other developing nations can accelerate socio-economic development through ICTs as critical enablers”. 

World Bank studies indicate that developing countries a 10% increase in broadband penetration generated a 1.4% increase in GDP growth. The impetus for growth driven by an enabling market for entrepreneurs topped much of the discussion.

The need for South Africa to improve itself was highlighted in an Index of Economic Freedom report paper last year that highlighted a sluggish telecommunications in South Africa, underlying the need to improve innovation through a better regulatory environment. 

“South Africa has drastically slower Internet connectivity than the rest of the continent, which impedes business, noted lead economist Jim Roberts. “According to statistics published by Speedtest.net, South Africa’s internet speeds are slower than those in Rwanda, Uganda, Tunisia and even Azerbaijan.”

The potential for improvement remains solid however and renewed commitments in recent months have underscored a strong ICT agenda at a provincial and local government level. 

Organisers said the indaba took place “against the backdrop that Africa and its people are increasingly becoming the next target market for international stakeholders to invest their technology and innovations”. 

Fortunately for investors at home, the Department of Communications is to host the ICT INDABA 2012 annually for the next five years, a good sign for those keen to highlight the country as a respected and rapidly progressively gateway for internet connectivity that is respected internationally. 

The event is endorsed by the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union, the leading United Nations agency for information communication and technology with 193 member states and 700 sector members and associates.

Companies look to project Africa’s market changes directed by government goals should conclude a consideration of the continent’s medium-term target of 80% internet connectivity across Africa by 2020. Communications Minister Dina Pule confirmed to delegates at the congress that the figure was an official target. 

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