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The conference has attracted more than 200 delegates made up of international ICT experts and other stakeholders from over twenty mostly African countries, but also from India, China, UK, Korea and the Middle East. Under the theme “Connectivity for Communications, Commerce and Governance”, the delegates are deliberating on how access to information and communication technologies can help accelerate the economic and social development of the people of Southern Sudan.

In the course of the day, delegates at the conference, organised by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) in conjunction with the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), re-affirmed their resolve to help promote, develop and extend connectivity to rural communities in all parts of the semi-autonomous country. The conference forms part of the CTO’s broad mandate of helping to develop ICTs in its member countries within the Commonwealth and beyond.

In a speech read on his behalf by Hon. Kosti Manibe, Minister of Cabinet Affairs, GoSS, the President of GoSS and Vice President of the Republic of Sudan, His Excellency Salva Kiir Mayardit said, “On the formation of our government we committed ourselves to providing basic services to the people, such as clean water, reasonable housing, healthcare, education, good roads, efficient transport, security, and equally important too, modern telecommunications and postal services. The fact that today, even in some of the very remote villages of Southern Sudan, you can make a phone call at all, is itself a clear testimony that with the continued cooperation and partnership of all major actors, including the private sector, many of the challenges we have identified can be overcome.”

President Salva Kiir acknowledged that as the dynamics of the global and regional economies evolve, information and communication has become an indispensible pillar for competitiveness as well as an engine for growth, admitting that Sudan, and especially Southern Sudan has to play catch-up with global trends. “This is why we feel gratified to see not only a constellation of African policy makers and sector champions here today, but equally leading members of the global community involved in this and related sectors.”

“We recognise the importance of communications and ICTs in wealth generation, job creation, poverty alleviation, and citizen’s access to government services, and the fact that the bulk majority of our populace live in rural areas. For this reason it is incumbent upon us to evolve strategies to expand communications services to the rural areas. The obvious key challenges include suitable infrastructure and services for all forms of communications, including telecommunications and ICT”, the President concluded.

Delivering the keynote address, Dr. Babacar Ndiaye, former President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), expressed optimism that the people of Southern Sudan “will make the greatest progress when they combine the best practices in economic management with good governance, prudent resource management with human capital development, domestic and foreign investment with external financial mobilisation, and when they use ICTs effectively to develop a Knowledge Economy.”

He said beyond the macro-economic indicators, evidence suggests that the enhanced communication and information flows provided by mobile telephony have significant impact on users’ livelihoods, especially those that are most vulnerable and traditionally deprived. “The mobile phone has become an essential tool for the transformation of the lives of billions in less developed countries. It has helped reduce vulnerability and increase opportunities, improve social empowerment, reduce the need to undertake costly and sometimes dangerous travel, increase access to health and education services, as well as create more employment and business opportunities.”

Dr. Ndiaye, who devoted more than thirty years of his personal and professional life to help develop Africa, acknowledged the reality that Southern Sudan stands at the cusp of a new political dawn, but it is also at the cusp of a new dawn in respect of its ICT and therefore socio-economic development.  He entreated the global and Southern Sudanese ICT community to seize all the opportunities that come with the era of ICTs and ensure that no community is left behind in access to connectivity.

In a brief remark, the CEO of CTO, Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, said the responsibility to connect the unconnected to ICTs rests, not only with governments but with the private sector and the communities themselves. He mentioned that the CTO is determined to continue its seminal work of promoting Public-Private-Peoples Partnerships to ensure that ICT policy, regulatory and operational initiatives serve, among others, the purpose of ensuring that connectivity is provided to all citizens. “The Government of Southern Sudan has numerous neighbouring country experiences to learn from in this area of connectivity, and therefore cannot afford to make the same mistakes that others have made in the past”, Dr. Spio-Garbrah added.

Welcoming the participants, Hon. Madut Biar Yel, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, expressed his appreciation to the international delegates for honouring the invitations to attend the conference and to share their expertise and experiences with his ministry in its bid to extend connectivity to rural areas. He said, “The fact that you are present at this conference shows your commitment to the development of ICTs, not only in your respective countries, but in the whole of Africa”. Hon. Biar Yel thanked the CTO for accepting to take the lead in organising this important event on the global ICT calendar.

Presentations were also received from Hon. Abdon Nhial, Secretary General of GoSS, Hon. Lt Gen Gier Aluong, Minister of Internal Affairs, GoSS, and Hon. Teresa Siricio Iro, State Minister of ICT, Sudan.

Delegates attending the conference came from such countries as the USA, South Africa, India, Belgium, the UK, The Netherlands, Zambia, Tanzania, Switzerland, Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, Cameroon, The Gambia, Nigeria, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Ghana, China, among others.