ITU Chief Urges Banks to Invest in African Telecom

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The first African secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union, Hamadoun Toure, is calling on financial institutions on the continent to invest in the telecommunications sector.

Africa is a unique place for investment and it is a good time for financial institutions to actively step in, said Toure, speaking Friday at a Lagos dinner party organized in his honor by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

"My message for [the] banking industry is that you have a very dynamic market," he said. He added that soon the ITU, through its Connect Africa initiative, would be calling on banks in Africa, and expressed optimism that they would respond positively.

Toure was elected secretary-general of the ITU at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey, in November 2006 and took office in January 2007. His visit marks the first time the secretary-general of the ITU, the world telecommunications regulatory body, officially visited Nigeria since the establishment of the U.N. agency.

Toure called on foreign investors to take the African market seriously by partnering with telecom operators. Noting that an African renaissance must focus on bringing new images to the continent, he said that partnerships are like the "salt" of the new age of investment.

Toure said Nigeria has shown that something good can come from telecom growth brought about by the advent of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) services. Information and Communication Technology (ICT), he said, has generated two-thirds of global jobs in recent years, and he stressed that there is a need to build capacity to keep up this pace.

Toure's visit coincides with Nigeria's becoming the largest telecom market in Africa, overtaking South Africa in the number of active, connected lines.

The world has entered an era where the productive capacity of the people depends on the knowledge they have, Toure said.

He urged the federal government, led by President Umaru Yar'Adua, to remain consistent in providing support for the NCC to carry out its duties.

Nigeria, he said, has remained a very active member of ITU, and he urged NCC to stay on track. "I would like you to continue in all bureaus. This event is a sign of trust for me. I commit myself not to disappoint you," he said.

Toure, who was in Nigeria for a three-day official visit, had earlier on Friday met with Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to draw attention to the Connect Africa Initiative of the ITU.

The Connect Africa Initiative is being championed by Toure and is intended to bring together governments, the private sector and other partners to carry out projects aimed at developing the continent's ICT infrastructure.

The initiative was launched in October at a summit of leaders in Kigali, under the patronage of Paul Kagame, president of the republic of Rwanda, and John Kufuo, chairman of the African Union and president of Ghana.

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