WATRA Commences Working Group Meeting in Banjul

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By: Kebba AF Touray

Photo: Group Picture of participants

The West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA), hosted by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), commenced its Working Group Meeting on Monday, 10 June 2024 in The Gambia.

Held under the theme “Enhancing Digital Transformation in West Africa, Strengthening Connectivity Security and Access”, the Gambia is hosting the crucial meeting, which embodies the collective commitment to advancing the digital transformation agenda in West Africa.

The theme of the meeting, which will be held from 10th-13th June 2024, according to the stakeholders, perfectly aligns with the vision of our national broadband policy and strategy. 

The theme also aligned with the Gambia’s national broadband policy and strategy, which aimed at transforming the country into a knowledge-based economy that thrives on accessible, secure and high-speed broadband ecosystem within an open access regime.

Lamin Camara, the representative of the Digital Economy Minister, said that in a highly interconnected world, the importance of robust and reliable telecommunications infrastructure cannot be overstated.

He said “This aligned with the strategic objective of our recovery-focused National Development Plan (RF – NDP) – 2023 -2027, which aims to transform the Gambia into a digital nation. It is the backbone of our economies, a critical enabler of innovation, and a cornerstone for achieving inclusive sustainable growth and development”. 

He said that it a manifestation that The Gambia government recognizes the transformative power of digital technologies and the internet, and is fully committed to leading the telecommunications sector towards a higher sustainable development path. 

He informed the convergence that although challenges still lie ahead, The Gambia has made significant strides, in expanding the country’s telecommunications infrastructure for the first, middle, and mile infrastructure.

He reported that before 2012, The Gambia as a country solely relied on a single satellite gateway with limited capacity connecting the Gambia with other countries and people regionally and globally, “however with the effort of our government, we invested in bringing the ACE Submarine Cable Landing on our soils in 2012”.

He added: “In addition, we have now secured funding for a second Submarine Cable for The Gambia envisaged to be deployed and operationalized by the end of 2025. This is backhauled by a national fibre transmission backbone across the length and breadth of the country.”

He bemoaned that as the country embraces the opportunities of digital transformation, it is evident that digital transformation is a double-edged sword, as it comes with benefits/opportunities as well as inherent risks, and they are acutely aware of the associated risks. 

“In this instance, Cyber security has become a paramount concern and efforts are at advanced stage to ensure a secure ICT ecosystem. As such, we have formulated and adopted a robust National Cyber security Policy & Strategy and Data Policy & Strategy to effectively respond to these risks. The Cybercrime Bill and Data Protection Bill are also in the process of enactment into law,” he said. 

Executive Secretary of WATRA, Mr. AlIyU Yusuf Aboki, said that the meeting marks a new beginning for WATRA, as it is characterized by their renewed confidence as outlined in their constitution (WATRA) and in line with their 2022-2025 strategic plan.

He said, “This plan is our guiding document driven by strategic pillars that are crucial for the development and integration of telecommunication across West Africa”. 

The Director General of PURA, Dr. Njogu L Bah, said that it is delightful and symbolic for the Gambia to host the all-important regional meeting, “where mind converged, ideas are shared and partnerships are forged towards a common goal of advancing telecommunications in our beloved West Africa”.

He said that as important stakeholders in the realm of telecommunications, they are all preoccupied with the need to improve service delivery in their various jurisdictions by overcoming the existing bottlenecks hindering progress to a certain extent and enhancing affordable communication services, improving cyber security and infrastructure development.

“As critical players serving the role of watchdog, it is hugely vital to gather all the relevant players and stakeholders in our collective search for viable and sustainable solutions for facilitation of meaningful services amidst its rising consumer demand,” he said.

He said that the fundamental goal of the Banjul (WATAR) Meeting is to encourage West African countries and African countries in general, “to promote and adopt the would-be recommendations from this working group, we hope that participants will propose viable solutions to address the identified challenges in the sector, leading to the implementation of appropriate measures for a better telecommunication in the region”.

Connectivity, he went on, lies at the heart of the Gambia’s digital future, serving as the lifeline that links us to endless possibilities and opportunities “by strengthening our connectivity infrastructure, we pave the way for increased collaboration, economic growth and social development across our nations”.

He averred: “In an age where cyber security looms large, we must prioritize the security of our digital networks and system, and it is only by working together that we can build resilient defenses that safeguard our information and protect the privacy of our citizens”.

“Access to digital technology is not a luxury, but a fundamental right that must be extended to all. By enhancing access to affordable and reliable telecommunication services, we empower our people to participate fully in the digital economy and bridge the digital divide that separates us,” said PURA DG Bah.