The eyes of the world on Kigali for WTDC by Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General
Yesterday, I addressed the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in Kigali, Rwanda, where members of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are exploring how to connect the unconnected to achieve sustainable development.
Kigali is one of Africa’s great cities, and Rwanda is a model of digital transformation for the continent and the world.
In his opening speech, Rwanda’s President, H.E. Paul Kagame, warned about the danger of letting the digital divide grow in some parts of the world.
He said that no company, country, or institution has the resources to tackle this issue, and that the future of the digital economy lies with all of us.
President Kagame’s words were a source of inspiration—like those delivered by the Secretary-General of the United Nations moments earlier, and His Holiness Pope Francis at our last WTDC five years ago.
All stressed the importance of leaving no one behind.
Much progress has been made, with almost 5 billion people being online today. The strongest growth in information and communication technology (ICT) uptake has been in the developing world, which is very encouraging.
Yet, as I reminded the conference, one third of humanity is still offline.
That’s close to 3 billion people, most of whom live in poor, rural areas of developing countries. Attracting investment to these areas has been one of my top priorities.
I echoed the UN Secretary-General’s call for universal connectivity with affordable services by 2030. It is my hope that this conference will make headway on removing all remaining barriers to connectivity.
Our greatest asset
What makes me confident is all the young people we saw during the Generation Connect Youth Summit that took place in Kigali just ahead of the main conference.
These young people are what Nelson Mandela called “our greatest asset” when he addressed a major ITU meeting in our headquarters city of Geneva almost 30 years ago.
We have obligations to younger generations – and to each other – to connect the unconnected and drive the development of new technologies as central aims to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Moreover, we must continue to show the world what ITU can do, not only as a technical body but also – and equally importantly – as a development agency. Despite establishing the ITU Development Sector (ITU-D) almost 30 years ago, the public perception of ITU as a technical agency has largely remained. We must work harder to ensure wider public recognition and support of ITU as a key agency for development.
Also present in Kigali were the chairman designate for the upcoming ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2022 (PP-22), as well as renowned investor Carlos Slim, a strong supporter from the private sector and a co-chair of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development created in 2010.
I was especially honoured to present H.E. President Kagame with a certificate recognizing Rwanda’s digital transformation and commitment to bringing broadband connectivity across Africa and the world. He has shown strong leadership not only as President of Rwanda, but also as a champion for digital transformation everywhere.
I invited delegates to consider the outputs of the Word Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2022 that concluded last week in Geneva. These outcomes are highly relevant for the ongoing WTDC discussions.
I look forward to the output from WTDC, which will be fed into the ITU Strategic Plan to be endorsed at PP-22 in Bucharest, Romania, later this year.
In the meantime, I wish for a successful WTDC and have called on all our delegates to keep cultivating the spirit of collaboration of the ITU family.