Embarking on a trip to Durban, South Africa, the third largest city after Johannesburg and Cape Town, has been on my mind these past few years. The attraction has been its subtropical climate which has attracted visitors and settlers alike from Europe, North America and Asia in recent years. This is a city famous for being the only place in South Africa with winter, spring, autumn and summer seasons.
Official records have it that Durban has the highest number of dollar millionaires added per year of any South African city, with the number rising 200 per cent between 2000 and 2014. It is also the second most important manufacturing hub in South Africa after Johannesburg with global car manufacturers, Information Technology (IT) companies, retail giants and others establishing manufacturing and assembling bases.
Preparing for the Trip
The first thing I did after receiving my travelling documents to cover the ITU Telecom World 2018 in Durban, South Africa which held from Monday September 10 to Thursday September 13, was to check the weather of the host city. This was not my first to South Africa, I’ve had countless trips, but it was my first trip to Durban.
A quick check on Google revealed the weather forecast for each day of the week I was going to stay in the city. For any foreign visitor, a key fact-check apart from security is how friendly the weather would be. I quickly bought a new winter jacket. Clothes packed, a new haircut, working tools assembled. I was ready for the trip.
On the evening of Saturday, September 8, on arrival at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport alongside five of my professional colleagues and two other staff from the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), what marvelled us was the huge crowd of passengers flying out of the country.
A quick reflection revealed that as a nation, there is so much capital flight going out of this country through our lack of national air carrier. Thousands of Nigerians board foreign airlines on daily basis just to get to their destinations. These foreign airlines smile to the banks daily with our hard earned money most times at inflated fares. If only Nigerian Air had seen the light of day, I thought to myself.
After about 30 minutes delay, the South African Airways aircraft eventually took off from MMIA, Lagos airborne to Oliver Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg. It was like a mini telecommunications conference aboard the plane. You cannot look 10 metres without sighting a familiar face in the Nigerian telecommunications industry. I wondered when Nigeria will have an infrastructure massive enough to host an event of this nature.
Last year at the ITU Telecom World 2017 hosted by South Korea in Busan, South Africa applied and won the hosting right for this year’s event from the ITU. South Africa boasts of facilities of international standards at Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg and Cape Town Convention Centre in Cape Town. They also have another world-class facility at Durban International Convention Centre (Durban ICC). If only we would build such global standard convention centre, I thought.
I was jolted back to reality by a shout out from Mr. Efosa Idehen, an Assistant Director at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Efosa is one man, highly respected and feared by the Nigerian telecom operators. The telcos prefer to call him “Efosa the Enforcer”, being the brain behind NCC’s enforcement activities over the years.
We were joined on the trip by the Nigerian delegation led by the chairman, NCC, Otunba Durojaiye; executive vice chairman, NCC, Professor Umar Danbatta; Dr. Isah Pantami, director-general, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA); Tony Ojobo, director, public affairs, NCC; Sonny Aragba-Akpore, assistant director/head of media, NCC; and Hajia Hadiza Umar, spokesperson of NITDA.
Others on the trip include managing director, Galaxy Backbone Limited, Engr. Yusuf Kazaure; president, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola; 21st Century Technologies Limited chief executive officer, Mr. Wale Ajisebutu; staff and top marketing officials from Nigeria Communications Satellite Limited, Nigeria Postal Service and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and Nigerian innovators who were going to exhibit at the Nigerian Pavilion at the global showcase.
A Freezing Day
As passengers disembarked from the SAA plane at the OR Tambo airport that Saturday early morning, the first shock was the freezing cold. As everybody strolled to pick their luggage from the conveyor belt from the Lagos flight, I quickly brought out my winter jacket from my backpack. An hour and half later, we were aboard Mango Airline, a local subsidiary of SAA for a 50 minutes flight to Durban.
Sandwiched between me and Mr. Sonny Aragba-Akpore was a middle-aged white South African lady. We got talking on the freezing cold and she quickly checked the weather app on her phone, which she announced to us was zero degrees at that hour.
The City, Durban
Landing at King Shaka Airport, Durban was smooth-sailing. The weather was better at14 degrees centigrade. After collecting our luggages. The ITU local staff on hand to escort to buses to the Durban ICC to do our final registration and badge collection before heading to our hotel. Driving from the airport, green vegetation on both sides of the road, concrete roads and well planned beautiful buildings catch your attention as we head into the city centre.
Durban is the economic hub of the province of KwaZulu-Natal, one of South Africa’s nine provinces. It is situated on the eastern seaboard of the country and epitomises the best that the country has to offer with its first-world infrastructure and the additional benefit of the warm Indian Ocean. Whether spending a relaxing day game viewing or dolphin–spotting from one of our pristine, golden beaches, or hiking to breath-taking waterfalls in the renowned Drakensberg Mountains, KwaZulu-Natal offers it all.
Durban has most of KwaZulu-Natal’s factories and is one of South Africa’s most important industrial regions. Its factories are primarily concerned with textiles and clothing, food processing, chemicals, sugar refining, and oil refining. The province’s road and rail networks are well-developed. KwaZulu-Natal’s chief port, Durban, is South Africa’s main cargo port and serves much of the interior of southern Africa.
Durban is the epitome of East meets West, where a strong Indian influence translates into some of the finest curries in the country; where mosques stand alongside historical Victorian buildings, and all is united by a profusion of subtropical indigenous and exotic trees, shrubs and flowers that need little persuasion to grow effusively. Its natural harbour, busy port, Golden Mile of impressive international hotels as well as budget hotels and glorious beaches makes the city a wonder to behold.
The outdoors is a major focus and Durban Metro not only boasts the warm Indian Ocean and various water-focused theme parks, like Shaka Marine World, it also functions as the gateway to two World Heritage sites – the Khahlamba Drakensberg Park and the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park. Just beyond its boundaries, the city is famous for its beautiful Dolphine Coast, the historical Battlefields, the Valley of a Thousand Hills, the Kranzkloof Nature Reserve, and the little towns of Kloof and Hillcrest.
One unsavoury experience we had to bear was roaming round the CBD in search of hotels on arrival. Emma Okonji of ThisDay, Lucas Ajanaku of The Nation, Zakaria Adaramola of Daily Trust, our team lead, the NTA crew, Sonny Aragba- Akpore and my humble self, had to charter Uber taxis round four hotels before we settled at Hotel Albany, a short distance from the Durban ICC. We had weeks before we left Nigeria booked for rooms at Palace Lodge on 2nd Avenue, Durban, unknown to us, the hotel does not offer internet facility and breakfast.
“HoD, this Hotel Albany is better than that ‘Wayo’ hotel”, said Sonny to me. “We have to cancel our booking at Palace Lodge quickly to recover our money” which I concurred. “You see, this hotel is inside town, they will serve us buffet and breakfast, and there are restaurants and shops around to buy what one needs. You can see this place is lively, the receptionists say Durban ICC is a walking distance,” he informed the rest of us. Durban ICC is nestled right by Hilton Durban.
We quickly made way to our hotel rooms. My room was on the 9th floor whereas the rest got rooms on the 3rd and fifth floors. There were also several ITU participants lodged at Hotel Albany, which is an eleven floor building. After the third day, we had to move to Solrand Hotel, half kilometre away to Durban ICC as Hotel Albany was fully booked and could not accommodate us beyond the three nights they offered us.
With a high-tempo cultural display, ITU Telecom World 2018 was opened (in order of speaking) by H.E. Nomvula Paula Mokonyane, Minister of Communications, South Africa; Acting Premier of KwaZulu Natal, Sihle Zikalala; H.E. Abdulaziz Bin Salem Al Ruwais, Governor, Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Rob Shuter, Group President and CEO, MTN; ITU Secretary General, Houlin Zhao; H.E Siyabonga Cyprian Cwele, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, South Africa; and South Africa President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, who delivered the keynote address.
Nigeria canvassed for investors to come into its ICT sectors which has high yield of returns. Nigerian ICT agencies, companies and SMEs marketed the country’s huge untapped market potentials, savvy population, educated and skillful youths and indigenous fintech innovations. They informed the visitors to the Nigerian Pavilion how global investors are pumping money into the country’s fintech startups. Companies who displayed their products, services and innovations at the Nigeria Pavilion include NCC, NITDA, NIGCOMSAT, Galaxy Backbone Limited, NIPOST, 21st Century Technologies Limited, MTN Nigeria. The SMEs and innovators include Dropque, Farmcrowdy, PrepClass, VoguePay, Wesabi and Zenafri.
One major topic on the lips of South Africans at the global event was the MTN $10.1 billion situation with Nigerian authorities. This was quickly deflected by Prof Umaru Danbatta who said NCC is intervening to resolve the issues.
During the four-day event, ITU Telecom World Forum sessions featured more than 150 speakers and delved into topics including: connecting the unconnected; the future of telecommunications; wireless technologies for Africa; technological developments and impacts in 5G, Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence; Smart Cities; digital literacy; supporting tech SME growth and others.
The global showcase featured over 4,000 participants, 250 exhibitors, sponsors and partners from more than 75 countries, and showcased innovative smart digital solutions, SMEs and technologies in fields such as e-health, e-agriculture, e-education, digital government services and digital finance. It had the prestigious ITU Telecom World Awards, which recognized excellence and innovation in ICT solutions with social impact from SMEs and corporates alike bring the event to a colourful close.
As we searched for Nigerian foods at night across dangerous areas like Points and Koko Bar where bad boys of Durban reside and prostitutes parade undeterred under the watchful eyes of the police in the CBD, we couldn’t just bid Durban goodbye without shopping at Gateway Theatre of Shopping, located on Umhlanga Ridge in Umhlanga, north of Durban, a 40 minutes’ drive from the CBD on the eve of our trip back to Lagos. The Gateway Shopping Mall is one of the top 50 largest malls in the world.
As we boarded our flights back to Nigeria on Friday 14th September, visitors to Durban city could most of all not forget that of all South Africa’s advancement, temperate climate, foods and rich cultural heritage and its beautiful women, it was indeed the land of King Shaka the Zulu.