At the beginning of September, the CTO appointed Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah its new CEO. A Ghanaian, Spio-Garbrah is a former politician, ambassador and PR man. Most recently he served as Education Minister (1998-2000) and Minister of Communications (1997-1998), when he was also Chair of the regulator the NCA. Between 1994-1997 he was his country’s Ambassador to the United States. Just prior to his appointment he ran his own business consultancy Spio-Garbrah Associates in Ghana.

The CTO is seeking to transform itself from being the Commonwealth "club" for existing and former state incumbent telcos into an ICT with a broader relevance to all of the developing work. In the interview that follows Dr Ekwow Spiro-Garbrah lays out his manifesto.

Q: What your priorities for the CTO?

I can do best to quote you from the statement I made on my appointment in Kampala. The CTO must do five principal things:

- It must continue to offer capacity building in the ICT sector through targeted training to selected officials in institutions in member countries.
- It must become and be seen as an effective conduit for bridging the digital divide and as a centre of cutting-edge knowledge on ICT issues for the benefit of its members and the global community at large.
- It must become more relevant to the needs of its member countries, especially its developing country members, by engaging in the processes of social and economic development, in particular in the five cardinal fields of agriculture, education, health, e-commerce and e-governance.
- It must become an instrument through which its partners, especially those from the industrialised world, become more knowledgeable about opportunities for transactions in the ICT sector in other member countries; and
- It must widen its membership and attract and embrace many institutions and associations that form part of the brave new world of ICT in a variety of collaborative arrangements.

Q: How does all this affect the CTO itself?

The CTO constitution changed last year. We were the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO). We now want to become more than a Commonwealth organisation and more than a telecoms organisation.

Q: How many paid up members do you currently have?

About 40. We had our foundation in the Commonwealth but we are now willing and able to attract members from outside the Commonwealth. We will be talking to potential members in the industrialising and developing countries. We make to make major advances in recruiting members in the USA, Netherlands, the Nordic countries, France, Germany, Italy, China, Japan and Korea. We are making a conscious effort to persuade those countries to become members. We also want private sector companies in those countries to become private sector members; organisations like Compaq, Dell and Microsoft.

Q: What benefits could a private sector company expect to gain through membership?

The private sector members can attend meetings of our Council and also special private sector meetings before our Council. They can participate in exchange programmes of their own staff with companies in the developing world.

The CTO has the opportunity to offer itself as the neutral arbiter in this process. For example, they can take part in the process of educating people about new forms of equipment. We have been offering the best programme of education and training for over 100 years and are well trusted. The private sector may therefore want to get involved in many different ways including: sponsorship, offering trainers, etc.

In the developing world, the Francophone countries have no organisation of a comparable nature to deal with these issues. The CTO will actively encourage them to join as members.

Q: In the African context, how are you different from the African Telecommunications Union?

It’s basically a forum for African ministers and lately regulators. It has a policy role to play but it doesn’t have access to the cutting edge knowledge and expertise we have. We can draw on not just the expertise of our African members but also those like Malaysia and India who are more advanced in telecoms and ICT. The CTO’s big advantage over regional organisations is that for example African countries can learn from countries with comparable economic performance like Jamaica and the Pacific. There can be a sharing of ideas between countries with similar challenges and problems.

Q: What’s the overall focus?

ICT or IC4D (ICT for development). We’ll retain our expertise in Telecoms but because of convergence no country can function by looking at a narrow sector.

Q: So you’ll be looking at digital divide issues?

It’s mostly funded by DFID’s BDO (Building Digital Opportunities) and CATIA (Catalysing Access to the Internet in Africa) programmes. Yes, there’s a research dimension to the organisation in this area. One project involves looking at providing rural access in Uganda. The lessons from this can be replicated in other countries.

Q: Where do you want the organisation to be in five years time?

It will be an organisation whose membership is very different to that of today. There will be most of the Commonwealth as members but there will also be many non-industrialised countries from outside the Commonwealth. There will also be quite a number of private sector members, both from the industrialised and developing countries. There will be a few development partner members including international agencies or entities. There would also be a wider range of collaborative arrangements with these agencies.