Africa telecom meet seeks ‘renaissance’

Telecommunications in spotlight at Johannesburg confab

JOHANNESBERG –Telecommunications in Africa, seen as key to the continent’s renaissance, comes under the spotlight at the week-long Africa Telecom 98 conference, which kicked off Monday in Johannesburg.

The conference, organized by United Nations agency the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has drawn an estimated 6,000 international delegates, including the heads of a number of African states.

“The conference is one of the most important events in Africa this millennium”, South African Communications Minister Jay Naidoo said.

Sub-Saharan Africa has a population 30 times greater than that of Tokyo but fewer telephone lines than the Japanese capital city.

About 12 million telephones serve more than 700 million Africans, with five million of the lines located in South Africa.

A broad African telecommunications development plan will be devised during the event.

Issues up for discussion include developing a pan-African cable network, coordinating a master frequency plan for the continent, and cutting tariff levels that in some African countries are four times higher than those of developed nations.

South African deputy president Thabo Mbeki, one of the key speakers at the event, believes the continent needs an information backbone before his vision of an African renaissance can take off.