Professor Umar Danbatta
Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has launched Connect2Recover with the support of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre of Saudi Arabia to help countries recover from COVID-19 by expanding access to affordable and reliable connectivity. Connect2Recover will initially focus on selected countries in Africa which are some of the least well connected countries and likely to be hit hard by the pandemic in socio-economic terms.
COVID-19 has highlighted that digital infrastructure is not just a convenience but an essential requirement for fully-fledged participation in society and the economy. Broadband connectivity has proved vital in helping countries’ businesses and citizens adapt and respond to the pandemic, enabling them to access the latest health information and continue working, learning and socializing remotely.
Connect2Recover seeks to expand access to affordable and reliable connectivity, which is an essential aspect of countries’ COVID-19 recovery strategies.
“ITU, and the wider international community, is transitioning from aiding countries with their immediate response to COVID-19, to helping countries prepare for and adjust to a ‘new normal’,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “As the United Nations is calling on its Member States to ‘build back better’, Connect2Recover represents ITU’s contribution by facilitating socio-economic recovery through the use of digital infrastructure, services, and applications, thanks to the generous support of the Japanese government and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Connect2Recover will consist of three key elements.
First, Connect2Recover will develop a methodology for identifying gaps and bottlenecks in the use of digital networks and technologies at country level: to respond to and mitigate the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as preparedness for any similar emergencies in the future: and to enable recovery and readiness for the “new normal”.
Second, on the basis of this methodology, Connect2Recover will assist countries in assessing their needs, gaps and bottlenecks, and develop strategies to ensure that the digital infrastructure and ecosystems adequately support recovery efforts and the “new normal.” These strategies will be designed in line with global best practices, as well as with other relevant policy tools developed by ITU and other relevant organizations.
Third, Connect2Recover will conceptualize and implement pilot projects to test specific technological solutions in line with national country strategies and policies. The project will also undertake deep-dive studies in specific areas of digital policy as prioritized by the selected countries, such as digital finance, e-education, e-health, e-government, or tele-working.
“Japan recognizes the importance to continuously work together with countries to strengthen their digital broadband infrastructure for adapting to the ‘new normal’, which provides a base of tele-working and remote activities,” said Minoru Terada, State Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan. “Digital technology is playing a vital role to respond to and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Under these circumstances, our project aims at improving the connectivity through the development of resilient broadband networks to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among African countries.”
“The pandemic has affected the global economy, financial markets, trade, and global supply chains. Saudi Arabia recognizes its devastating impact, which has hampered growth and development and reversed the gains accomplished in the previous years. This human crisis requires a global response as the virus respects no borders, humanitarian situation or needs,” said Dr. Abdullah Almoallem, Director of Health and Environmental Assistance at the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre. “During this pandemic, we heavily depend on ICTs to carry out our daily life needs under the new norms of social distancing. As it assumed the presidency of the G20, Saudi Arabia continued its humanitarian aid to other countries in order to help them to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and through this project we aim to enhance connectivity and leave no one behind in this digital age.”
“COVID-19 has demonstrated the vital importance of meaningful connectivity and it has also served as a wake-up call to the global community to renew efforts to connect the 3.6 billion people still offline,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. “Connect2Recover represents a first step in our journey to recovery and preparedness. I applaud the commitment of Japan and Saudi Arabia, and I invite all stakeholders to join this initiative to help advance real and rapid progress for all.”
In addition to ITU’s existing COVID-19 activities and work programmes in Africa, Connect2Recover reinforces the organization’s long-standing efforts to accelerate digital transformation on the African continent and thus achieve long-term development goals.
Out of the 25 least connected countries in the world, 21 are in Africa. According to the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa, nearly 300 million Africans live more than 50 km from a fibre or cable broadband connection. Access to high-speed Internet thus remains out of reach for many Africans, hindering their ability to fully harness the potential of digital transformation.