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There Is Hope

Ambassador David Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy
Letter to the Editor in Response to October 9, 2008 Article in The Economist Magazine
Washington, DC
October 11, 2008

SIR - You correctly note the important role that the internet and the mobile-phone industries are playing in Africa. Recognising that there are still immense problems and challenges facing that continent, the changes helped by technology have already been profoundly transformational.

The incredible rise of mobile-phone use across Africa during the past few years has brought substantial economic benefits, especially to the poorest. For example, Nigeria adopted pro-growth telecoms policies and saw the number of telephones go from less than 500,000 fixed phones in mid-2001 to more than 42 million fixed and mobile phones last year. Similar stories are told in Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, and elsewhere resulting in African mobile-phone use growing at about 50% annually—the fastest in the world.

Similarly, internet use in Africa during the past seven years has grown by more than 1,000% to more than 51 million. Combining the new generation of web-enabled mobile phones with major new high-capacity submarine telecoms cables under construction, and the growth of 3G wireless data networks being quickly established in even rural areas of Africa, means that even poor, literate Africans living in previously remote areas are being connected to the world’s knowledge.

With South Africa hosting the International Telecommunication Union’s Standardisation Assembly (1,000 telecoms experts and ministers focusing on advanced next generation networks), the first such conference to be held in Africa, the lesson is that good public policies matter.



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