Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are impacting every area of development in Africa, says Andrew Rugege, the Regional Director of the ITU Regional Office for Africa.
As he explains, ICT development starts with the questions: “What can ICTs do to make lives better? How can [they] help to make the lives of Africans better?”
During ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference 2018, Rugege visited the TV studio to discuss ITU’s projects in Africa, and how ITU is working with partners on development initiatives using ICTs.
“We’ve got five regional initiatives for Africa that were decided by WTDC [World Telecommunication Development Conference] and some of them were continued from the last WTDC, before 2017,” he said. “These are: Building digital economies and fostering innovation; the second one is emerging broadband networks and encouragement of those; the third one is building confidence and security in our networks; the fourth is capacity building; and the fifth is in spectrum management and monitoring.”
Rugege described the wide range of projects that are being implemented across the continent, and how ICT is revolutionizing how Africans work and live.
“Now for example, we are working with WHO [the World Health Organization] in a project and original initiative, one which we are calling ‘Digital Health for Africa’, and what this seeks to do is to help countries build their health systems around digital platforms. There are many, many … platforms in every country [that] deal with health, but there is no unified platform,” he said.
In addition to digital health projects, ITU is also working to boost the digital economy by providing hands-on skills training to youth across Africa.
“We developed a project with UN Women called ‘African Girls Can Code.’ It’s a project that has three objectives: One, teaching young girls at a very young age how to code so they grow up in that culture. Secondly, it is building awareness among countries — Ministries of Education, Ministries of ICT — to build ICTs and build coding into the curricula of schools at a very young age. And thirdly, it is to create a platform where the ones that have these skills can continue to engage with their mentors to find jobs or find entrepreneurship [opportunities],” explained Rugege.
“On the one hand, we are bridging that divide, but on the other, you are giving these young people a livelihood and giving them an opportunity to know that they can choose ICT as a career path,” he explained.
Given that ICTs are impacting nearly every sector of development in Africa, there is no shortage of projects being undertaken at the ITU Regional Office.
“We are addressing education. We are addressing water. We are addressing agriculture, and we are addressing employment and particularly entrepreneurship. So that’s going to be my focus. My second focus is engaging other sister organizations in the UN system. You have to take advantage of every facility that you can get, because in Africa there are very few opportunities with developed private sector [entities] that would be able to contribute. So we have to encourage them,” said Rugege.
“I’m continuing to engage with other heads of agencies in the UN system to be able to come together, synergize,” said Rugege. “We seek partners in making ICT work better, because we can’t do it alone.”
He remains optimistic about the potential for growth on the continent. “Africa is open for business, especially in the area of ICTs,” he said.