|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2009|
|Topic:||Adopting mobile and wireless technology in Africa|
|Author:||Hon. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh|
|Title:||Minister of Posts and Telecomm|
Hon. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh, Minister of Posts and Telecomm, Liberia, and his team at the ministry of Posts and Telecommunications are working to rebuild Liberia’s postal sector destroyed during the civil war. Prior to his current appointment, Minister Sulunteh served as the Administrator at Cuttington University College (CUC), having first been its Associate Vice President for Planning and Development. During his professional career, the Hon. Sulunteh also served as Financial Aid Advisor at York University, Canada, an Accounts Representative at the Royal Bank of Canada, as Project Coordinator for the Friends of Liberia, as an Administrative Assistant to the VP for Administration at CUC, a Field Financial Analyst at Bong Co, and participated in Agricultural Development Projects. Hon. Sulunteh still teaches at institutions of higher learning such as the University of Liberia. In the past at CUC, Minister Sulunteh taught Labor Economics and graduate-level Economic Development and Macroeconomics and taught macro and microeconomics at York University in Canada. Hon. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh has won several awards for his professional and academic achievements.
Building the ICT services needed to accelerate Africa’s social and economic development is a high priority throughout the continent. Nevertheless this must compete with many equally important priorities including the region’s low levels of literacy, its relative lack of infrastructure for, among others, electricity, roads, financial services and such. By creating an appropriate regulatory structure and providing direct government support, countries can attract foreign investment to the ICT sector, and increase the availability of governmental, educational, health, educational and financial services.
The impact, the sort of change, rapid adoption of mobile and wireless technology will bring to Africa is unforeseeable. There are so many challenges that Africa has to face that although penetration levels and investment in mobile and wireless technology are essential parameters, other challenges make it difficult to gauge, in isolation, the impact of mobile and wireless technologies. In addition to the challenges inherent in the rollout of wireless and mobile technology, one must also consider the need to deal with the low literacy levels of would-be users of portable mobile and wireless products, corruption and conflicts versus good governance and rigid rule of law, the poor supply of electricity in densely populated rural communities and the lack of infrastructure, including the road network, required to induce investment. Given that the challenges can be diametrically different from one African nation to another, let me give a gist of the needs I see, as Minster/Postmaster General of Liberia’s Posts and Telecommunications, in establishing ICT services and in meeting the logistical requirements for those goods and services crucial to enhancing and sustaining rapid growth and development. Establishing an appropriate roadmap to navigate from where we are to where we must be is our passion, our desire; our devotion to this cause and calling is, nonetheless, littered with those challenges mentioned earlier. Thus, the adoption of ICT services should be at the foundation of our national goals. Building this foundation and implementing Iberia’s ICT and Telecommunications policy requires a formative process that will interweave postal and telecommunications services to make these available, faster, easier to use, reliable, affordable and accessible to all of our people – whether in small hamlets and villages or in tour capital city. Liberia’s telecommunications sector was locked up by a monopoly and subjected to a host of entry barriers ranging from exclusive rights to the lack of political will. By the time this sector was open to competition, it was lopsided and failed to establish a fair value for our radio frequency spectrum. The signals from the sector were alarming and some of our partners including the World Bank had to intervene to help mitigate this extremely worrisome problem. Eventually, three new GSM mobile operators were admitted to the telecommunications sector, to compete with the incumbent GSM operator, Lonestar Communication Corporation, thereby breaking the monopoly and raising the total number of GSM operators currently providing services in Liberia to four. Liberia’s ICT policy draft, which is at the verge of finalization – expected in September this year, clearly delineates the roles and functions of the various actors in Liberia’s IT and telecommunications sectors and embodies pertinent considerations geared toward maximizing the socio-economic benefits of the sector for the Liberian people as a whole. Prominent among the policy goals are the fundamental concepts of Universal Access (UnA) and Universal Services (UnS). UnA and UnS are an integral part of the government’s overall policy of raising the living standard of our people and are at the heart of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority’s (LTA) mandate. Liberia’s Legislature passed a law that established the LTA as the sector’s permanent regulatory authority. The law also establishes the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and gives it the sole responsibility to formulate Liberia’s Telecommunication Policy. The rationale of this policy, which covers the five year period from 2009 to 2014, is to ensure that ICT and Telecommunications services and systems are people-centered, universally accessible, cost-effective and will support the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) target to connect the world by 2015. To successfully implement the WSIS resolution, means we must first connect our people to basic telecommunications services including the Internet, and then connecting the people to our government and its services and institutions and, finally, interconnect our institutions to one another. We are strongly convinced that ICT services will give our government and its partners the opportunity to diversify products and services required to bridge the digital gap. Since many people do not have access to traditional banking services, creating postal services that give people the ability to instantly transfer cash to others anywhere in rural Liberia helps build the local economy and simplifies access to goods and services. This will drastically reduce the need of rural residents to travel great distances to the country’s capital city to collect money sent by friends and relatives residing abroad. The movements of goods will also be simplified by the ease of local payments. In a short while, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications will, for example, be able to tell its postal customers how long it will take their mail to reach America, or any other part of the world. Information and communication technology will, for the first time, enable the true unification of the county’s postal network and establish five coordinated administrative regions to control the quality of postal services and ensure that gaps at one end of the network are quickly and effectively addressed, and that poor service in one postal region will not adversely affect the services available in other regions, both within the country and beyond. We are determined to implement an effective ICT Policy in Liberia, and most, if not all, of my African colleagues are concomitantly working, as we are, to create conditions in the market that will attract investment in the IT and telecommunications sectors and will spur the building of modern mobile and wireless infrastructures. This will have a highly positive impact on postal delivery services, the quality health services throughout the region, national security and – most important – will spur socio-economic development and alleviate poverty throughout Africa.