ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

by Yayeh KITAW (Kitaw Yayehyirad KITAW)

Last year, in February 2019, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau Director Doreen Bogdan-Martin met in Addis Abeba with H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia to discuss Ethiopia’s expression of interest in hosting the World Telecommunication Development Forum (WTDC-21) in Addis Ababa for the first time on African soil.

Last year, in June 2019, Ethiopia’s invitation to host the 2021 World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21), presented by H.E Getahun Mekuria, the then Minister of Innovation and Technology of Ethiopia, was received with thankful messages and unanimous support by ITU Council Member States in the presence of Ambassador Zenebe Kebede. The newly appointed Minister H.E Abrham Belay followed up on Ethiopia’s commitment making the opening remarks of Telecommunication Development Advisory Group (TDAG) in June 2020.

Last week, in October 2020, the organizing team of ITU and the Government of Ethiopia conducted a fruitful meeting in the presence of State Minister H.E. Ahmedhin Mohammed, to make the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21) a truly African and development focused one.

As Addis Ababa (New Flower in Amharic), capital city of Ethiopia, African “hub” of opportunities, is preparing to host this important conference from 8th to 19th November 2021, ITU member states and all stakeholders are organizing Regional Preparatory Meetings for WTPF-21 to effectively and efficiently provide future direction and guidance to the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D).

This important conference comes

as Ethiopia,

  • member of the League of Nations in 1923
  • founding member of the United Nations in 1945;
  • first sub-Saharan country to join the International Telecommunication Union in 1932;
  • home to the Economic Commission for Africa since 1958 and the African Union since 1963 and to ITU’s Africa Regional Office since 1992;

is undergoing a profound transformation, placing Digital Connectivity through its strategy at in a wider framework of socio economic objectives of its homegrown economic reform agenda under the government led by H.E. Prime Minister Abiy, whose efforts were recognized through the award of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

has promisingly started to liberalize the telecommunications sector, creating a new regulator and continuing plans to partially privatize Ethio Telecom, one of the world’s largest state-owned monopoly in the second most populous African Country.

as Africa, is striving to implement the African Union Commission’s comprehensive Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa, which was developed in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Smart Africa, AUDA-NEPAD, Regional Economic Communities, the African Development Bank, Africa Telecommunications Union, Africa Capacity Building Foundation, International Telecommunication Union and the World Bank.

as the World, has all eyes rived on the Covid-19 pandemic’s second wave and exploring how Connectivity can help in recovering and building back better,

as the World with 46% of its unconnected inhabitants, needs US$ 428 billion to connect the remaining 3 billion (nearly half of the global population) by 2030 as estimated by ITU’s ‘Connecting Humanity’,

as the World is shifting from analog to digital faster than ever before, further exposing us to the vast promise and peril of new technologies as outlined in the United Nations Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

as ITU, its Telecommunication Development Sector and Advisory Body, the Telecommunication Development Advisory Group (TDAG) are discussing reforms of the World Telecommunication Development Conference in 2021 to be a solutions-based conference that addresses the real challenges in the development of telecommunications/ICTs and make it a landmark conference.

WTDC-21 offers an invaluable opportunity for all stakeholders including ITU member states, private sector members of ITU-D, regional development banks and telecom organizations to work together in this unprecedented era and provide direction to the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) through an Addis Action plan 2022-2025.

Hopeful that the pandemic situation will allow a physical WTDC-21, on the land of 13th Months of Sunshine (Ethiopia), from 8th to 19th November 2021 as planned!

My Notes on the Roundtable discussion on “The Future of Internet Governance in Geneva”

With the launch of the report “Geneva and Internet Governance”, the Geneva Foundation and the Centre for Trade and Economic Integration (The Graduate Institute, Geneva) have organized a roundtable discussion with’ a panel of experts including. The objective was to discuss the issues and challenges of Internet governance and the role that Geneva could play in this area.

Here are some of my takeaways for recollection purpuses.

From “Tech for Good” to “Good in Tech” – Marie-Laure Salles , Director, The Graduate Institute, Geneva.

Continue reading “My Notes on the Roundtable discussion on “The Future of Internet Governance in Geneva””

86% = 0% : pour commencer d’en finir avec l’équation inéquitable du Nil pour l’Éthiopie

Par Kitaw Yayehyirad KITAW

Alors que le monde a les yeux rivés sur la pandémie Covid-19, ce juillet 2020 annonce le début de la fin d’une injustice séculaire sur l’utilisation des eaux du Nil. Ce fleuve légendaire, souvent cité comme nourricier des grandes civilisations du delta, a manqué de récits mentionnant l’Éthiopie, pourtant source de 86% des eaux du Nil dont elle utilise 0%. L’Éthiopie, à l’aube du nouveau millénaire selon son calendrier, s’est enfin attelé avec détermination à faire usage de ces eaux pour son développement, sous le principe d’utilisation équitable et raisonnable. Les éthiopiens, d’ici et d’ailleurs, se mobilisent dans une campagne de sensibilisation à l’égard du droit de l’Éthiopie sur le Nil sous le hashtag #NileForEthiopia alors que leur pays a commencé le remplissage du réservoir du Grand barrage de la Renaissance sous le gouvernement mené par le Premier ministre Abiy, lauréat du prix Nobel de la paix de 2019

L’Éthiopie, véritable château d’eau du Nil, fournit 86% du débit avec le Nil bleu (Abbay), l’Atbara et une partie du Sobat, le reste provenant des huit autres pays riverains et le Soudan
Continue reading “86% = 0% : pour commencer d’en finir avec l’équation inéquitable du Nil pour l’Éthiopie”

Connecting the next 46 per cent: Time to pick the Good from the Bad and the Ugly

By Kitaw Yayehyirad KITAW (Yayeh KITAW) –  7 November 2019
PhD Fellow in Governance and Policy Analysis

This blog note has also been published on CircleID in January 2020.

Digital Development and Freedom on the Net

On the 5th of November 2019, the release of the first of ITU’s Measuring Digital Development series coincided with Freedom House’s unveiling of its Freedom on Net 2019 report. This serendipity prompted me to write this blog note after carefully examining both reports.

On one hand, ITU’s analytical publication, with its new friendly format, emphasizes that Internet use continues to spread, warning however that the digital gender gap is widening. The estimated 4.1 billion people using the Internet in 2019 reflect a 5.3 per cent increase, confirming the trend of slowing global growth rates. More men than women use the Internet in every region of the world except the Americas, which has near-parity and 97​ per cent of the world population now lives within reach of a mobile cellular signal, reveals the report, offering interesting snapshots of other important ICT indicators. With its global and regional perspectives, ITU’s Facts and Figures 2019 also recalls that most of the offline population (46 per cent of the world population) lives in least developed countries, Europe and Africa having the highest and lowest Internet usage rates, respectively.

On the other hand, the Freedom on the Net 2019 focusing on ‘the Crisis of Social Media’ comments that the Internet, once a liberating technology, has opened new conduits for surveillance and electoral manipulation. Internet Freedom Declines outnumber gains for the ninth consecutive year with Ethiopia recording the largest gains in 2019 following the election of a new Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, who loosened restrictions on the Internet and unblocked 260 websites. “Digital platforms are the new battleground for democracy and Internet freedom is increasingly imperiled by the tools and tactics of digital authoritarianism” notes the report recalling that of the 65 countries assessed, 33 have been on an overall decline since June 2018. The future of Internet freedom rests on our ability to fix social media, predicts the report offering series of recommendations to ‘fairly’ regulate a technology now pervasive in business, politics and personal lives.

The more we connect the World, the less free it becomes?

Continue reading “Connecting the next 46 per cent: Time to pick the Good from the Bad and the Ugly”

Ethiopia recorded the biggest improvement worldwide in the 2019 Internet Freedom scores

By Kitaw Yayehyirad KITAW (Yayeh KITAW)
Founder and Director
PhD Fellow in Governance and Policy Analysis

Ethiopia saw an 11 point improvement in its internet freedom score recording the biggest improvement this year in Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net Index.

The April 2018 appointment of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led to an ambitious reform agenda that loosened restrictions on the internet. Abiy’s government unblocked 260 websites, including many known to report on critical political issues. was one of first blocked websites in the initial wave of censorship in 2006 and unblocked in 2018 after 12 years of restriction.

Continue reading “Ethiopia recorded the biggest improvement worldwide in the 2019 Internet Freedom scores”

My notes during the public lecture on ‘Digital Cooperation: Can Geneva Make It a Win-Win?’

Insightful and thought provoking discussions among distinguished panel members:

  • Brad Smith, president of Microsoft;
  • Doris Leuthard, former president of the Swiss Confederation;
  • Amandeep Singh Gill, former co-executive director of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation’s Secretariat;
  • Jovan Kurbalija, head of the Geneva Internet Platform and former Co-Executive Director, Secretariat of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation

Amidst the conversations on the role of Geneva in Digital Cooperation, it was mentioned that:

  • the Swiss Digital Initiative (including GAFAM) to promote ethics in the digital world will to be officially launched on World Economic Forum 2020
  • Geneva is where ‘Technology meets Humanity’ referring to the early technologies, the birth of the Red Cross
  • ‘De-ideologizing’ the issue of data which ranges from private data, scientific data, business data and that emphasis on those specificities is important when discussing regulation on data
  • Inclusiveness is one of the most pressing challenge in view of ‘not missing out on opportunities’
  • only 5% of articles about Africa on Wikipedia are written by Africans yet optimism was echoed about Africa’s growth and digital transformation

Interestingly, alluding to the Cloud Act (a United States federal law enacted in 2018) and bilateral agreements, @Jovan Kurbalija referred to the creation of the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) in 1865 after bilateral agreements could not properly address issues relating to Telegraph Exchanges. The International Telegraph Convention was indeed a precursor of multilateralism, many decades before the creation of the League of Nations.

The recording can be found here .

Y. Kitaw
PhD Fellow in Governance and Policy Analysis at UNU-MERIT Maastricht University
Personal website: | LinkedIn  | Twitter

About Kitaw

Kitaw works in Geneva for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

Born and raised in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, he holds an MBA in Management of Technology from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and is a part-time PhD Fellow in Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Maastricht – UNU-MERIT.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog and extracts of research work are solely those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the official position of his employer and the academic institutions he is affiliated with.

Walsh’s talk on the UN 2030 Development Agenda

I just watched an interesting 10 minutes talk in TEDx format by Patrick Walsh with an appealing title “Everyday Citizens and the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda”.

He covered in a brief yet comprehensive, attention captivating style important and complex points ranging from the genesis of the UN 2030 Development Agenda to YOU and what YOU can do for the success of its implementation.

I particularly appreciated his novel example of a women, stranded on a desert island, who sets up a company, a household and a government and how she would not knowingly harm herself or the environment around her for her grandchildren. He depicted this fictional instance to illustrate the ‘disconnects’ in the current world we live in and how ‘stakeholder partnerships’ could address these issues as we go along the implementation of the 2030 agenda.

In short, his key message was to recall the responsibility for implementation by the people and to induce successful stakeholder partnership at local, national, regional and global levels.

My comments on the Freedom on the Net 2016

The annual survey and analysis of internet and digital media freedom around the world ‘Freedom on the Net 2016’ reveals yet another decline of Internet freedom around the world.
Using a methodology that includes several ITU figures (in particular for the index on ‘Obstacles to Access’ assessing to what extent infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet), the report entitled ‘Silencing the Messenger: Communication Apps Under Pressure‘ concludes with the following key findings:
    • Internet freedom around the world declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year.​
    • Two-thirds of all internet users – 67 percent – live in countries where criticism of the government, military, or ruling family are subject to censorship.
    • Social media users face unprecedented penalties, as authorities in 38 countries made arrests based on social media posts over the past year. Globally, 27 percent of all internet users live in countries where people have been arrested for publishing, sharing, or merely “liking” content on Facebook.
    • Governments are increasingly going after messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which can spread information quickly and securely.​

​​​Interestingly, the report displays a chart showing Internet Freedom vs Internet Penetration and GDP without providing any ​comment.

The chart triggers a variety of questions ranging from the linkages​ between Internet Freedom and GDP up to the correlations between ICT growth, development and democracy.

Indeed, the Internet presents the ‘Dictator’s dilemma’ for authoritarian regimes.

On one hand, shutting it down can hurt their economy. On the other, leaving it open and unrestricted can threaten their power grip as it facilitates their citizens’ ability to access and share political information and engage collectively.

Most often respond to this dilemma through sophisticated and opaque ways, taking advantage of the tool,  by for example promoting e-government as a means to strengthen their authoritarian rule while tightening control and surveillance. (see figure from the World Development Report 2016 – Digital Dividends​)

Source: World Development Report 2016
While there is abundant ICT4D literature on the linkages between Information Technologies and International Development in general, much more remains to be explored on the correlation/causal linkages between ICT penetration, Development and Democratization at a global level as well as specific case studies including cultural and historical insights.