Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General, ITU speech at Opening Ceremony

Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General Speeches

Good morning, everyone. And welcome to ITU Telecom World 2018!

Mr. President Cyril Ramaphosa,

Minister Siyabonga Cwele,

Minister Nomvula Mokonyane,

Acting Premier of Kwa-Zulu Natal Province  Sihle Zikalala,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

ITU is honoured and proud today to bring one of our flagship events to a city, a country, and a continent on the cusp of a new digital era. I have fond memories of ITU Africa Telecom 98, which was held in Johannesburg. 20 years later, we are very pleased to be back in South Africa and to be here in the magnificent city of Durban.

At this special moment, I wish to pay my respect to Nelson Mandela -a global icon, a son of the African soil, and a strong supporter of ITU. This year, Madiba would be 100 years old. When South Africa took part in ITU TELECOM 95, he travelled to Geneva to address the event. In his speech, Nelson Mandela stressed the need to work towards eliminating the divide between what he called “information-rich” and “information-poor countries.”[i]He talked about the unprecedented window of opportunity opened by the information revolution. Many years later, at ITU Telecom World 2009, Nelson Mandela kindly gave us a video reminding us “ICTs have the potential to enable us to solve many of the critical problems confronting us.” As Nelson Mandela once said, “information and communication technologies are the single most powerful tool we have for human progress.” This message was echoed at our World Telecommunication Development Conference in Buenos Aires last year by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who said that “ICT is a powerful tool to help us achieve each and every single SDG.” ITU will remember him forever.

Mr. President, you have made the digital revolution a centerpiece of your vision for South Africa. In a stirring state of the nation address earlier this year, you talked about a year of change, renewal, and hope. Rest assured, your call to seize the opportunities of rapid advances in information and communication technologies has been heard -from the Golden Mile of Durban to the shores of Lake Geneva.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen:

One week ago, on 3-4 Sept, the long-expected Beijing Summit of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was held in Beijing, and was jointly managed by co-Chair President of China Xi Jinping and President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa.  Heads of States or Governments of 53 countries of the African Continent attended the Summit. It was a great conference, with great success! ITU was proud to be invited to attend it as an observer. I participated in the Summit and was very pleased to note that in his keynote speech, President Xi Jinping launched 8 initiatives. In his first initiative, he encouraged the Chinese to increase investment in Africa and to support SMEs. In his second initiative on infrastructure, he listed ICT as a priority area together with transport, energy, and water. At the end of his speech, President Xi emphasized his wish to focus on the youth of Africa for the future.

In the main output document, “Beijing Action Plan 2019-2021”, cooperation on ICT is further elaborated in four paragraphs 3.3.5 – 3.3.8, while in 3.3.8, China and Africa both expressed their common wishes to strengthen their cooperation on ICT through ITU. I am extremely happy with those messages and initiatives. I take this opportunity to express my sincere congratulations to Co-Chairs, President XI Jinping of China, and President Ramaphosa of South Africa, together with the Chairman of the African Union, President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, for their wonderful leadership!  I wish also to congratulate and thank all ICT Ministers of Africa and China for their efforts to bring ICT to such a high position during the processes of the Summit. ITU will work closely with China and Africa to implement the decisions agreed by the Summit. I do hope similar outputs can be achieved for the other partners of Africa on this issue.

The 4th Industrialization and digital transformation that we’re seeing here in Durban is spreading across the entire continent. ITU congratulates South Africa on signing the African Continental Free Trade Area, one of the largest free trade areas in the world. We also commend South Africa for joining the “Smart Africa Project” initiated by a few African States 5 years ago.  On Friday, South Africa will host here in Durban the annual meeting of BRICS Communications Ministers.  I am confident that all those great efforts by South Africa will have a positive impact on digital transformation and investment in ICT infrastructure.

Over the next four days, we’re going to have the opportunity to put infrastructure, investment, innovation, and inclusivity in the spotlight. These “4 I’s” are all critical to bridging the digital divide and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

ITU Telecom World 2018 is a platform for everyone to forge new ICT partnerships and create new ICT business opportunities.

Let’s use ITU Telecom World 2018 for smart digital development. Let us all work together to ensure a smart and inclusive digital future for all -in South Africa, the African continent, and the rest of the world.

ITU Telecom World 2018 is the last major ITU gathering before we meet at the Plenipotentiary in Dubai next month. PP-18 is an opportunity for African countries to make their voice count and play an important role in shaping the environment that will lead the development of digital technology into the next decade. I do hope that PP-18 will further strengthen ITU’s mission to develop ICT and engage with SMEs.

I have a message for all the young entrepreneurs who are here today: you are the hope of a nation, an entire continent, and our world. ITU Telecom World 2018 is your opportunity to show the world what African tech SMEs can do to help create jobs, transform people’s lives, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goalsright here in Africa. I’m looking forward to the live pitching and selection of winners in the Awards Ceremony at the end of the week!

I want to thank our hosts : President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Government and people of South Africa, and the City of Durban. Let me thank all the Ministers, heads of telecom agencies, industry leaders, and SMEs and all participants who are here with us today. And my special thanks to our sponsors -the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, MTN, and numerous representatives of industry who have supported the host country and this year’s edition of Telecom World.

I wish you all a successful and productive ITU Telecom World 2018!

Thank you.