SADC communication ministers vow to turn region into information, knowledged-based economy
Communication ministers from the Southern Development Community (SADC) countries vowed on Thursday to turn the region into an information and knowledge-based economy.
This emerged from a ICT (information and communication technology) meeting taking place in Durban, a coastal city in southeastern South Africa.
Communication ministers from 15 SADC countries have been meeting in Durban since Monday to discuss the region's ICT infrastructure.
The meeting, also attended by policy regulators, implementing agencies and ICT industry players, was designed to help create a more integrated region and help move its communication systems forward.
"An accessible, affordable and reliable telecommunications is essential for us to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution which has the potential to leapfrog SADC region economically and socially as it brings with it new opportunities to our citizens," South African Minister of Communications Ayanda Dlodlo told the delegates.
Dlodlo urged participants to seriously ponder on how they can make interconnectedness easier for the people of the SADC region.
Participants reviewed the progress that has been made in the communication field in the region.
But Dlodlo said communications infrastructure and services particularly in rural, peri-urban and township areas "is still not where we would like it to be".
"Unfortunately even today we live in a society where too many of our citizens are still denied access to information and the life changing benefits that it brings," the minister said.
Of SADC's population of 300 million people, only 16.3 percent of the population are using the internet compared to a penetration of 47 percent globally.
This is the threat but also an opportunity to do right by the SADC people, Dlodlo said.
The successful development of e-commerce and e-government require that business and government have efficient telecom links with consumers and citizens, said Dlodlo.
Many participants pointed to high telecommunications prices which they said have a negative effect on economic activity.
Figures revealed at the meeting show that cell phone operators in South Africa were charging as much as five rand (about 0.39 US dollars) a minute for cross border calls.
"If the majority of the population is either not connected, or cannot afford to use services, e-commerce and e-government initiatives will falter, economic growth will be restricted, and SADC's Information Society will be confined to an elite minority or it will continue to be a pipe dream," Dlodlo said.