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STATEMENT BY HON. ALHAJI IBRAHIM BEN KARGBO, MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION OF SIERRA LEONE AT THE OPENING SESSION OF THE MINISTERIAL WORKSHOP ON INFORMATION HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION FOR DEVELOPING COUNTRIES HELD AT THE ACADEMY FOR INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS OFFICIALS (AIBO), MINISTRY OF COMMERCE, BEIJING, PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA-8TH DECEMBER, 2010
His Excellency the Deputy Ambassador of the Republic of Sierra Leone to China, Deputy Minister of Industry and Information Technology, the Deputy Minister of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, staff of the Academy for International Business Officials (AIBO), representatives of the Chinese Embassies in all the participating African countries, Senior Government officials from Africa, ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of my colleagues present here today, please allow me to preface this statement by paying tribute to the leadership of the People’s Republic of China, especially the Government of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. I also want to congratulate the organizers of this workshop at a time when more than anytime before the need for effective Sino-African collaboration in the promotion of Science and Technology must be seen as a matter of priority. It therefore gives me great pleasure to make a statement on behalf of my colleague Ministers from all the 13 (thirteen) African countries, especially since we have been invited to be part of this seminar on Information Highway Construction for Developing Countries. Even though my statement will be tilted towards outlining the status of the information and communication landscape in my country, there are strengths and weaknesses that are common to all countries that have bilateral relations with the People’s Republic of China.
The challenges of being effective participants in information and communication technology cut across the African continent, and my colleagues will agree with me as I speak on their behalf this morning that there is great need and urgency for the individual Governments to modernize their various countries through information communication technology.
The historical, political and economic relation between China and the African continent is not novel as it dates as far back as the 14th century when merchants and scholars from both continents visited each other’s continent.
The African people, including reputable African politicians and technicians are aware of the great strides the Chinese people have made over a short period and we believe that with continuous collaboration between the two peoples, Africa will also attain respectable standards in technology which the Chinese people continue to attain.
At the political level the Africans have not forgotten the role Mao Si Tung played in the political liberation of China, nor have we forgotten the commercial and technological leadership role played by Deng Su Ping, an equally respectable leader. I emphasize this point because whatever endeavour one finds himself, especially in the area of social, economic and technological development, there must always be the political will vital for the economic liberation of the citizens, an attribute, which leaders of China have always shown and which our own present generation of leaders are now prepared to exhibit to bring about development in our various countries.
The relationship between China and individual countries at the moment has been excellent and continues to grow from strength to strength, but we are now more thrilled by the emphasis placed by the Chinese Government to treat and relate with the people of the African continent as a whole on the basis of equality, even though, the Chinese Government also places a lot of emphasis on the area of technological development in Africa especially the development of the telecommunications sector.
May I further state Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen that one major area which can be effectively utilized to encourage African countries to better relate and communicate with each other is by modernizing the telecommunications sector and by extension providing a vehicle for Africa to relate and communicate with the rest of the world, including China. It has become obvious that priority placed on telecommunications development by various African countries also poses two main challenges; accessing the technology itself and at the same time providing the funding for the installation of the technology. Many of my colleagues would agree with me that the urgency of putting in place the structures for effective telecommunications development and in an effort to improve domestic and continental connectivity are priorities which each Government perceives as extremely important.
Mr. Chairman, many of us in Africa need scientific help, and in many cases many African countries which have undertaken massive telecommunications projects also require the necessary funding and the scientific training of their citizens to actualize the dreams of these Governments and this is where be believe that the Chinese Government can continue to provide the necessary help in an effort to modernize the telecommunications landscape in Africa.
Furthermore, Mr. Chairman ladies and gentlemen inasmuch as telecommunications has been emphasized in the area of mobile telephony in the urban centers of many countries, many of our Governments in an effort to improve telecommunications have also placed a lot of emphasis on rural telecommunications. Also, in an effort to pursue the concept of modern telecommunications, and to improve the social status of the citizens, including those in the rural areas, telecommunications connectivity in all the sectors i.e. voice and data also pre-suppose that not only should the individual countries thrive towards internal connectivity, but also connectivity should be extended on sub regional phases, to allow the sub regions of West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa and North Africa to interconnect within their sub regions, which should be seen as the final step of continental connectivity. One important phase to ease challenges related to connectivity and to provide a cheap means of communication within and among African countries is the utilization of the submarine fibre. Again, we expect collaboration between Africa and China in achieving this goal aimed at modernizing the telecommunications landscape.
Many industrious Africans who have developed great faith in the sense of industry of China and who also believe that China now stands out as the effective partner of Africa with no strings attached, have now asked the question- why is Africa not utilizing in an effective manner the present digital television technology to provide a continental -wide television system that would serve to promote continental cohesiveness and to portray the excellent attributes of Africa.
In this regard Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, China and Africa can effectively collaborate to set up a continental television system not only to allow the world to listen to Africa’s own side of the story but also to provide a vehicle for the exchange of cultural ties between Africa and other countries including China. We sincerely believe that this can be one effective means of collaboration between the People’s Republic of China and the people of Africa.
As I speak to you, China is currently Africa’s second largest business partner after the United States of America. This explains why in October 2000 an official platform was created known as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to strengthen the relationship between the two continents. I am sure it is under the umbrella of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation that all 13(thirteen) participants from Africa are assembled in this room today.
The People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Sierra Leone, my home country, established diplomatic relations on 29th July, 1971. Bilateral relations between the two countries have been very smooth and development oriented since its inception. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, China has partnered with Sierra Leone to implement several projects ranging from Agriculture, Energy, education and Infrastructure for which we are grateful as a Government.
I want to state here confidently that similar interventions must have been replicated in other African countries hence our presence at this very important seminar. If it happens to be otherwise, I want to believe this is the beginning of the partnership between your country and the Chinese Government.
My Ministry, the Ministry of Information and Communication has benefitted a lot from the collaboration with the Chinese Government and indeed Chinese Companies involved with telecommunications. To elaborate on the extent of this collaboration, I will take you back to the history of communication in my country and highlight the current trend to enable you see clearly why I am here as Minister of Information and Communication of Sierra Leone.
The telecommunications sector and its infrastructure collapsed entirely after the eleven year civil conflict. After the cessation of hostility in the country in 1999, Government realizing the potentials of the sector put in place regulatory mechanisms in tandem with international best practices to revitalize the sector. These regulations created room for private sector participation in the telecommunications market and at the same time sought to protect there investment.
Government enacted the Telecommunications Act 2006, being an Act that established the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) to provide for licensing and regulation of telecommunications operators and for the promotion of universal access to basic telecommunications services, create fair competition for the benefit of investors and the users of telecommunication networks and services, to improve the national, regional and global integration of sierra Leone in telecommunications and to provide for other related matters.
Given the fact that we are operating a liberalized economy, the National Telecommunications Communication (NATCOM) has issued an array of licenses to internet Service Providers (ISP) and 3G licenses to new entrants such as Ambitel and Intergroup Telecom Limited, all geared towards the enhancement of internet services in the country. The resultant effect is the creation of several internet cafés across the length and breadth of the country. It is equally important to note that even the GSM operators now provide internet services through the GPRS facility of their networks.
Mobile phone networks dominate Sierra Leone’s telecommunications market. They provide around 90% of all subscriber connections, whilst the fixed line tele-density stands at 0.4%, CDMA stands at 4% and others such as VoIP account for the rest. The cost of basic internet in Sierra Leone is high and broadband penetration is low. Internet services range from 16Kilo Bites Per Second (16 Kbps) to 1 Mega Bite Per Second (1Mbps) for homes, offices, commercial houses, VPN etc.
The liberalization so far of some of the telecommunications facilities and services account for the increase in usage. The total mobile subscriber base is approximately:
(i) 2007- 1,200,000 subscribers with 72% annual growth rate, mobile penetration was 30%, tele-density was 21% & Average Revenue per User(ARPU) was $14.00
(ii) 2008- 1,545,000 subscribers with 39% annual growth rate, mobile penetration was 38%, tele-density was 25 % & ARPU was $8.00
(iii) 2009- 1,704,965 subscribers with 10% annual growth rate mobile penetration was 43%, tele-density was 34% & APRU was $6.50
(iv) 2010- 2,254,925 subscribers with 24% annual growth rate mobile penetration 52%, tele-density is 39% & APRU is $7.00.
Additionally, dial-up ISP (PSTN) subscriber base is between 150-200; CDMA Internet subscriber is 4,200; mobile internet users stands at 16,000 and the current internet penetration is 0.32%.
From this statistics above, it is very clear that Sierra Leone ought to do more to catch up with other countries in the telecommunications sector, as I also believe other African countries equally need help in the sector.
From the regional dimension, the telecommunications growth is an indispensable component in the successful implementation of economic integration adopted by 15 countries of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
On 19thJanuary 2007, ECOWAS Heads of States and Governments acceded to the harmonization of Information Communication Technology (ICT) policies and legal and regulatory framework so as to facilitate and expedite the establishment of a single liberalized telecoms market within the ECOWAS community. ECOWAS protocol established Six Acts supplemental to the ECOWAS revised harmonization Treaty of 1993 and these include: (i) legal and licenses regimes applicable to Network Operators and Service Providers; (ii) access and interconnection in respect of ICT Sector Networks and Services; (iii) numbering plan management; (iv) management of the radio-frequency spectrum; (v) universal access/service regulation; and (vi) ensuring competition .
Sierra Leone has completed the transposition process of the ECOWAS directives. On 15th September 2009, the Telecommunications Act 2006 as amended in 2009 was domesticated with the six supplementary Acts covering the ICT sector.
Upon assumption of Office, His Excellency the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, classified Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a key priority to turn around the economic and social landscape of the country. Upon His Excellency the President’s directives a National ICT Task Force was formed which was charged with the responsibility of formulating a National ICT Policy.
The National ICT Policy document brought to fore the need for service providers to improve network performance, establish standards bureau for the ICT sector, create a center for ICT intelligence, develop a National ICT framework and the setting up of a National ICT Advisory Council of which His Excellency is the Chairman.
The National ICT Advisory Council is charged with the responsibility of giving guidance to all stakeholders on ICT sector related matters including: (i) the formulation of ICT objectives and implementation plans; (ii) development of national ICT standards and guidelines, coordination of national ICT initiatives and projects; (iii) determination of requisite ICT support services to public and private sectors; (iv) monitoring of the implementation of policy plans and evaluating the results; and (v) convergence of technologies
Concurrently, the Vice President’s Office, the Ministry of Information and Communication in collaboration with the UNDP conducted an e-government readiness survey. The e-government readiness survey highlighted weak diffusion of ICT services and access particularly in the public sector and therefore recommended strengthening of the capacity of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in ICT through Business Process Re-engineering (BPR), develop local computer and internet use and access, develop e-education projects and implement universal access strategy for under-served and un-served rural areas, among others. To this effect, the Government of Sierra Leone signed an agreement with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, a Chinese Company to implement the e-government and National Optical Transmission backbone project. Unfortunately, the project has been stalled due to the procedures in securing loan from the Exim bank of China.
Presently, the internet penetration for both dial-up and broadband internet service is very low. As such the Ministry of Information and Communication and the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) in collaboration with the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization (CTO), organized the Commonwealth African Rural Connectivity Initiative (COMARCI) Workshop in Makeni, Northern Sierra Leone. The workshop focused on innovative technology solutions for rural access with the view of leveraging Public Private Peoples Partnerships (PPPPs).
In view of the foregoing, Government demonstrated political will thus moving traditional leaders and paramount chiefs to give parcels of land in their different communities for the actualization of the rural connectivity project.
The Telecommunications Act 2006 as amended stipulated the establishment of a fund known as the Universal Access Development Fund (UADF). The aim of raising this fund is to provide ICT facilities for the under-served and un-served rural communities.
NATCOM in collaboration with International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization (CTO) have embarked on the establishment of Multipurpose Community Tele-centers for rural and underserved areas in five locations within the country as a pilot project.
In upholding the President’s ICT vision for the country, the Ministry of Information and Communication officially launched the Sierra Leone Internet Exchange accompanied with training facilities for Network Chief Technical Officers and Administrators in Internet Protocol Version 6(IPV6). Government believes in providing direct interconnection, reduced cost, latency, and bandwidth thereby making connectivity relatively cheaper thus reducing Operational Expenses (OPEX) in terms of bandwidth acquisition.
There is a wide disparity between ECOWAS countries in terms of availability of telecommunications infrastructure and services besides mobile telephony. Due to the concluded civil unrest, Sierra Leone was unable to participate fully in SAT3, MAIN ONE, GLO ONE and other submarine cable infrastructure serving the Atlantic Coast of Africa. Consequently, connectivity between Sierra Leone and other countries relies exclusively on expensive satellite communication with limited bandwidth.
In view of this, Government established the Sierra Leone Cable (SALCAB) Limited which is one of the telecommunications operators of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) consortium. The ACE Consortium is financing a submarine communications cable system stretching from France to South Africa under the provision of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) with a supply contract of about 1.92 Terabits per second. Sierra Leone is part of the West Africa Regional Communications Infrastructure Program (WARCIP) being prepared by World Bank for least connected countries. Through the support of World Bank, SALCAB has held final consultation with key stakeholders and has disclosed to the public at large the Environmental and Social management Framework (ESMF) and Resettlement Policy Framework (RPF) documents.
Government has also recently negotiated the terms and conditions and Financial Agreement of the WARCIP- Sierra Leone project with the World Bank. It is expected that the submarine cable will land in Freetown in the second quarter of 2012. Landing the cable in Sierra Leone will make communication cheaper and affordable to all and will encourage private sector participation and promote competition in the management of the International Gateway and as well improve the Quality of Service (QoS).
However, bringing a quantum of bandwidth through optical fiber cable to the landing station in Freetown cannot provide effective and efficient usability of the services. Rather, plans are underway to install and commission fiber optic Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) and terrestrial fiber backbone. A memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been reached between the Islamic Development Bank (IBD) and the Government of Sierra Leone to fund the ECOWAN project. The components of the project include installation, testing and commissioning of a ring fiber optic backbone linking major cities and towns as well as neigbouring countries within the sub-region. Government is cognizance of the fact that this will introduce an array of opportunities for the effective utilization of the internet by both public and private sectors. It will also usher in opportunities for the last mile to access internet facilities.
Our doors are still open to new entrants in the communications sector as long as you come in with modern technology that is affordable and can benefit our citizens in the remotest village. I am more than certain that each Government represented here today has a policy aimed at modernizing the telecommunications sector in our various countries and also very certain that after this workshop not only will our Governments relate with China at the bi-lateral level but all of us should collaborate and cooperate with China through the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology for the development of our various ICT sectors in our various countries.
After all it has been recorded that in other sectors in the past including health care, Africa lagged behind other continents, but this time round with the help of countries like China, Africa should forge ahead to be an effective participant in the global information technology.
I thank you.
I B Kargbo, Ministry of Information and Communication, Freetown
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