On the 29th April 2021, CommunicationsRegulators Association of Southern Africa (CRASA) convened its 10th AnnualGeneral Meeting via video conference.

The meeting was initially to be convened in Victoria Fall,Zimbabwe from 26th to 27th March 2021 but had to be convened virtually due to the ongoing global Covid 19 Pandemic. However thePostal Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) was duly noted as the official host of the event.

Engineer Patrick Mutimushi, director general of ZICTA ,  chaired the meeting in his capacity as the Chairperson of the CRASA Executive Committee. The theme of this year’s AGM was ”FacilitatingUniversal Access to Safe and Secure Communications Services for all SADCCitizens’ as announced by the Executive Secretary of CRASA, Mr Antony Chigaazira.

Opening Remarks

Delivering his opening remarks, the host, Dr Gift Machengete , the Director General of POTRAZ, observed that in the information society, universal access to information was the panacea to the SADC region’s socio-economic challenges. He also noted that streamliningICTs would be essential for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) by 2030.

Dr. Machengete then acknowledged the important role of CRASA in fostering synergies among its members through the harmonization of policies and regulations for the improvement of the ICT and postal sectors in the region.  He then expressed his pride and honour for being recognized as the host of the 10th AGM, albeit virtually due to the COVID – 19 Pandemic. He further expressed his confidence that the deliberations would proceed as smoothly as possible thanks to the power of ICTs.

Dr.Machengete then invited the participants to freely exchange ideas, views and experiences, noting that this would result in the improvement of regulatory efficiencies among the CRASA Members. He accordingly commended all those in attendance for being part of the AGM which, by his observation, was aimed at fostering collaboration within CRASA for the advancement of ICTs. In this regard, he emphasized the power of partnerships and collaboration in the fast-changing knowledge economy while pointing out that the region could not effectively address all the pertinent challenges posed by the mutating nature of the ICT sector without collaboration.

Remarks by Delegates

The CRASA 10th AGM was graced by delegates from various esteemed organizations including ITU, UPU and the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Couriers Services, Zimbabwe.

In delivering his remarks, the Regional Director for Africa for ITU, Mr. Rugege first thanked CRASA for giving ITU an opportunity to address the opening ceremony and for the invitation to the AGM and its preceding workshop. He observed that every aspect of life depended on ICTs and that the theme of the AGM appropriately reflected this reality. Mr Rugege then provided a brief account of Africa’s progress in terms of growing and developing the ICT Sector, while pointing out the gaps in access that still existed in some communities.  He then explained how the COVID-19 pandemic had not only exacerbated the gaps in access, but had also threatened to marginalize the most vulnerable groups even further.

Mr Rugege noted that this state of affairs was not the vision ofAfrican leaders who had signed up to achieving the Sustainable DevelopmentGoals (SGDs) and urged all those in attendance to play their part in bringing about meaningful universal connectivity which encompassed broadband that was not only available, accessible, relevant and affordable, but also safe and trusted. He called upon CRASA Members to work with the relevant stakeholders,including policymakers, in order to define innovative policies and smart regulatory solutions. He concluded his remarks by outlining the various initiatives of the ITU that were aimed at capacitating CRASA Members, and encouraged them to attend the upcoming ITU meetings and activities.

UPU Regional Co-ordinator for Southern andEastern Africa, Mrs Mutyavaviri started her remarks by thanking CRASA for the invitation to the 10th AGM. She then conveyed the message of goodwill from the UPU Director General, Mr Bishar Hussein, who acknowledged and commended the collaborative relationship between CRASA and UPU.

Mrs Mutyavaviri then proceeded to outline several regional projects that had been undertaken by the UPU in collaboration with CRASA and SouthernAfrican Postal Operators Association (SAPOA) including the OperationalReadiness for E-commerce (ORE), Regional Project on Digital Transformation andDiversification of Postal Services, and the Electronic Advance Data (EAD)Capacity-development Project.

In his Keynote address, the Guest of Honour  Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services Dr. Jenfan Muswere, firstly applauded CRASA for arranging the 10th AGM despite the challenges that had been occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. He expressed the hope that CRASAMembers would, during the course of the AGM, deliberate on ways to support their respective governments in overcoming the said challenges. He, thereafter,called upon the Association as a whole, to reassert the role of ICTs and PostalServices in fighting the pandemic.

Dr. Muswere reminded the participants that one of the consequences of the pandemic was the upsurge in the usage of the internet for E-education,E-commerce, E-health and other similar applications. He pointed out that the upsurge in internet usage had prompted the Government of Zimbabwe to consider broadband connectivity as a necessity and not a luxury. He then outlined some of the challenges being faced in terms of providing universally accessible broadband including affordability and scarcity of capital for rolling out the necessary infrastructure.

He cited the growth of what he termed  “data-hungry” Over-the-top (OTT) services as another challenge being faced particularly by some of the ICT service providers, whose average revenue per user was actually on the decline, despite the growing demand for data. He accordingly urged CRASA to come up with innovative ways to overcome such obstacles and provide adequate broadband to the citizens of SADC.

Dr. Muswere also made mention of the vast majority of people in rural areas who were yet to be connected, and emphasized that universal access was an urgent concern that was not only a problem of accessibility, but affordability as well. He further touched on the importance of local content, digital skills,public awareness, and inclusion of vulnerable groups in bridging the digital divide and called upon CRASA, as the regional regulatory association, to come with solutions for the augmentation of broadband uptake and usage in the SADC region at large. His expectation, in this regard, was that CRASA would strategize on many fronts in order to create a conducive environment for operators to offer affordable broadband services. He also expected CRASA to deliberate on how ICTs could be leveraged to prevent and fight future pandemics.

Dr Muswere concluded his address by reaffirming Zimbabwe’s commitment to the vision and mission of CRASA and asserting that the SADC region’s hopes for economic revival, after the pandemic, were pinned on the ICT sector. He reiterated Zimbabwe’s readiness to support the various regional projects that were spearheaded by CRASA to ensure harmonization of the regulatory environment. He then encouraged all stakeholders to collaborate for the benefit of the SADC Region in order to come up with mechanisms for utilizing ICTs to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, bridge the digital divide and attain theSustainable Development Goals. He then wished the Members fruitful deliberations and declared Zimbabwe open for business.

Vote of Thanks

In delivering his vote of thanks on behalf of the Director General ofTanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), Mr Lemanya, ViceChairperson of CRASA Executive Committee firstly thanked the Guest of Honour,Dr. Muswere, for his kind words that were full of wisdom and hope for the ICT and Postal Sectors in the region.

He then appreciated Zimbabwe’s commitment to support CRASA and SADC at large and pledged that Tanzania would equally continue to support theAssociation and the new Executive Committee (EXCO) that would be elected by the end of the AGM. He also called upon all the other CRASA Members to continue working together in the spirit of teamwork in order to ensure that the purpose of CRASA was achieved.

Mr Lemanya then expressed his regret that the AGM could not take place at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but noted that this would soon be a possibility if everyone continued to work together to overcome the pandemic. He ended his remarks by thanking the Director ofCeremonies for according Tanzania the opportunity to deliver the vote of thanks.