lundi , 25 septembre 2023
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Interview project  Mr. John OMO – Secretary General of ATU

Interview project Mr. John OMO – Secretary General of ATU

1.    For the readers of Lte magazine, can you tell us a few lines about the mission of the ATU?

Founded in 1977, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) is a membership body representing now 51 African countries and 56 Associate Members made up of fixed and mobile telecom operators, technology companies and civil society organisations.

ATU plays a significant role in the African ICT space and our primary responsibility is to understand and respond to the evolving needs and challenges of our members, develop effective strategies, and advance strong relationships within the telecommunications sector.

ATU serves as a knowledge sharing forum, facilitating dialogue and collaboration among public and private stakeholders. We help improve access to information infrastructure and services as well as promote regional market integration, attract investment and support capacity building initiatives.

ATU also coordinates African countries or represents African interests at global decision-making conferences, ensuring that Africa’s voice is heard in shaping global telecommunications/ICTs policies. Through these efforts, ATU contributes to the growth and development of the African telecoms industry, advancing socio-economic progress across the continent.

2.    What are the main features of your program following your re-election as SG of the UAT?

At the time of my re-election, and really-from the very onset of my tenure at ATU, my vision has been to optimize the Union’s value to its membership and accelerate Africa’s digital transformation, by actively engaging and collaborating with telecommunications/ICTs stakeholders in the region and globally.

I elected to adopt a two-pronged approach which has been an important vehicle in aiding the achievement of this vision. Working closely with ATU’s leadership, members, strategic partners, and the General Secretariat, the approach has ensured that we:

  1. Promote the strategic rollout of African telecommunications/ICTs programmes and projects that resonate with the practical realities of the African telecommunications/ICTs ecosystem, for accelerated telecommunications/ICTs growth at the national, sub-regional, and regional levels.

  2. Spearhead the harmonization of licensing, policy, and regulatory frameworks as a strategic move for accelerated infrastructural development and innovation.

The most significant outcome of this approach is that we have gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the critical issues affecting the Union and the telecommunications/ICTs sector in the continent and our problem-solving and vision-setting capabilities are at an all-time high.

3.    In your opinion, what are the main challenges that African member countries of the ATU must overcome in order to benefit from international technological advances in telecoms/ICTs?

i)               Infrastructure Development: Many regions in Africa lack basic telecommunication infrastructure, such as reliable electricity and network connectivity. Extending telecom infrastructure to rural areas also remains a significant challenge due to the high costs involved. Another factor is low broadband penetration which hampers the adoption and utilization of advanced telecommunications/ICTs services.

ii)             Digital Divide: There is a significant digital divide between urban and rural areas, as well as among different socioeconomic groups, limiting equitable access to telecommunications/ICTs. Women and girls also often face barriers to accessing and utilizing telecommunications/ICTs, including limited digital skills, social norms, and cultural barriers.

iii)           Digital Skills Gap: Tied to the digital divide, there exists a shortage of skilled professionals in the telecommunications/ICTs sector, hindering the effective deployment and management of advanced technologies. Improving the quality and relevance of telecommunications/ICTs education and training programs is crucial to create a workforce capable of utilizing new technologies.

iv)            Policy and Regulatory Frameworks: Many African countries lack comprehensive and up-to-date regulatory frameworks that encourage investment, competition, and innovation in the telecommunications/ICTs sector. This is exacerbated by a spectrum management and allocation problem which stands in the way of the deployment of advanced wireless technologies, such as 5G.

v)             Financing and Investment: African countries often struggle to secure sufficient financial resources for telecommunications/ICTs infrastructure development and technology adoption. Improving the investment climate, including addressing issues related to taxation, intellectual property rights, and market entry barriers, can attract more private sector investments.

4.    4- Do you think that the coordination actions carried out by the ATU with the other regional groups are effective today? if not, what steps can be taken to strengthen them?

Very effective! One has only to look at the results of these efforts to justify this conclusion. To start with, in just five years, we have expanded the Union’s membership by bringing on board five Member States and 20 Associate Members. Between 2019 to 2021 alone, Membership Contributions increased by about 11%, among many other accomplishments.

This is a clear demonstration of the confidence in the Union. To further strengthen our coordination actions, we have an evaluation mechanism that absorbs feedback from members and stakeholders. This has ensured that collaboration is enhanced through regular communication channels, knowledge sharing, and joint events.

We have been able to harmonize policies and regulations across regional groups, mobilise resource through partnerships with international organizations and the private sector and engaged in capacity building programs to develop skills. We can do more, and we are prepared to do so.

5.    5- How do you assess the contribution of African States to ITU Conferences (PP- WRC- WTDC- WTSA….) and ITU working groups?

African States have made significant contributions to ITU conferences and working groups, playing an instrumental role in shaping global telecommunications and telecommunications/ICTs policies. In ITU conferences such as the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP), African states actively engage in discussions, propose resolutions, and present their perspectives, ensuring that regional concerns and priorities are taken into account. Our active participation and influential contributions have contributed to positive outcomes and policy advancements.

Within World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC), for example, African states have successfully advocated for spectrum allocation issues that are pertinent to the region. Through our valuable input on matters related to radio frequency coordination, satellite orbits, and associated topics, we have effectively safeguarded our interests and ensured fair and equitable spectrum management.

In World Telecommunication Development Conferences (WTDC), we have actively contributed to discussions on bridging the digital divide, promoting infrastructure development, and enhancing access and affordability.

We have also made notable contributions within the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA). Our contributions ensure that the unique requirements and regional perspectives of African states are adequately represented, creating a more inclusive and globally relevant standardization process. For example, we will, together with the ITU, soon be implementing pilots for a single emergency number for Africa.

We have demonstrated commitment, leadership, and active participation, and the results of our actions are visible.

6.    6- What could be your wishes for an even stronger commitment of Morocco to the work of the ATU?

It is important for all ATU member states, including Morocco, to recognize the significance of their commitment to the work of the African Telecommunications Union. Active engagement and involvement plays a vital role in shaping the future of telecommunications and ICT development across the African continent.

Just recently, Morocco became the 27th African Country to Ratify the African Telecommunications Union Constitution and Convention. This is a significant milestone as it accords Morocco all the rights conferred on the Member States, including the rights to participate in all activities, meetings and conferences of the Union, elect and be elected to the Administrative Council of the Union and to recommend candidates for election as officials of the Union. The ratification now opens up the country for more opportunities for collaboration with other ATU Member States in the development of telecommunications/ICTs. We are discussing with Morocco capacity building opportunities for some African countries which will go a long way in increasing the capacity of those countries in the development and implementation of ICT policies and regulations.

ATU as a collaborative platform for exchange of knowledge allows member states to collectively shape regional policies, strategies, and initiatives in the telecommunications sector throughout Africa. The active participation and commitment of all ATU member states, including Morocco, are crucial for realizing the full potential of the African Telecommunications Union.

7.    7- Today telecoms/ICTs have become necessary tools for working or learning. To reduce the digital divide in our villages and rural communities, don’t you think it is useful to find other sources of funding in addition to universal service funds and the efforts of telecom operators.

To effectively reduce the digital divide in our villages and rural communities, it is imperative to explore additional sources of funding alongside universal service funds and the efforts of telecom operators.

One solution is to establish dedicated rural connectivity funds that pool resources from governments, private sector entities, and development partners. These funds can be specifically allocated to expanding infrastructure, improving network coverage, and providing affordable access in underserved areas.

Channelling financial resources towards these targeted initiatives, can bridge the digital divide and ensure that rural communities have the necessary connectivity for education, employment, and social development.

Another viable approach is to encourage innovative financing models such as impact investment funds and social impact bonds. These mechanisms attract private investors who are committed to achieving social and economic development goals while generating financial returns.

Additionally, governments can incentivize telecom operators through tax breaks or regulatory benefits to encourage them to invest in expanding their network infrastructure to underserved regions.

These approaches, and many others that are being proposed, encourage private sector participation while ensuring sustainable and long-term development of the industry.

8.    Precisely a lot of hopes were expected from the OECD agreements signed in October 2021 to provide financial resources through the taxation of digital giants. But unfortunately, these agreements seem complicated for our continent. Even the inclusive framework, which provides an exception for small jurisdictions, is not inclusive enough. What do you think of these OECD agreements? We know that, for example, Kenya has chosen not to sign these agreements and to apply direct taxation of the internet giants.

The OECD agreements are part of an effort to address the challenges posed by the digitalization of the global economy and ensure a fair allocation of taxing rights.

We recognise and appreciate that these agreements are a positive step towards creating a more equitable international tax system, as they seek to address the issue of digital companies often being able to generate substantial revenues in countries without having a physical presence there and, therefore, avoiding paying taxes in those jurisdictions.

However, it’s important to note that the implementation of these agreements can be complex, and the impact can vary across different regions and countries. Some countries or regions may find it more challenging to adapt to the new tax rules or may have specific concerns about the inclusiveness of the framework.

Regarding the decision of some African countries not to sign these agreements and instead apply direct taxation of internet giants, it’s worth noting that countries have the sovereign right to design and implement their own tax policies. Those counties might have chosen to pursue their own approach to address the taxation of digital giants based on its specific circumstances and priorities.

It’s also important to recognize that the global tax landscape is evolving, and different countries may adopt varying approaches. This can lead to differences in how they address the taxation of digital giants, potentially creating challenges in achieving a fully harmonized and consistent global approach. As a whole though, we at the Union are of the view that additional taxation basically goes to increase the costs of a product or service to the eventual consumer and discourages investment. A delicate balance is therefore required.

ATU SG, Mr. John Omo  – short Bio

Mr. John OMO is the Secretary-General of the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), the African Union’s specialized agency for telecommunications and ICTs’ development in Africa. He has held the position since January 2019 and was re-elected for a second 4-year term at the ATU Conference of Plenipotentiaries held in Algiers, Algeria in July 2022. He leads the continental body entrusted with building consensus within African countries in the development of ICT policies, systems and services, and also in coordinating African participation in international ICT fora.

Mr. Omo has 31 years of experience as a lawyer and has contributed immensely to the development of local and international policies, legislation, agreements, and treaties in all areas of public service life but mainly in the area of ICTs.

Prior to his election as the Secretary General of the Union, he worked with the Communications Authority of Kenya, Kenya’s ICT regulator, where he provided leadership over the Authority’s legal matters and strategies. Before that, he worked in the public/civil service.

He holds a Master of Law degree in International and Commercial law from the University of Sheffield – UK, a Bachelor of Law from the University of Nairobi – Kenya, and a Diploma in Human Rights Law from the UN Human Rights Centre, Geneva, and ILO Centre Turin among other professional courses.

Mr. Omo was recently awarded the Global Merit Leader Awards 2022 by Telecom Review during Telecom Review Leaders’ Summit in Dubai, UAE.

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