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How can Africa harness the ICT revolution? Insights from #AfDBAM2016


However I want to share one session that was held yesterday with the question: Creating a Smart Africa – How the continent can harness the ICT revolution?

Speakers included:

  • Hon. Omobola Johnson, Lead Partner TLcom (VC fund) and former Minister of Communication Technology, Nigeria
  • Mr. Hamadoun Toure, Executive Director, Smart Africa Alliance and former Secretary General, International Telecommunication Union.
Hon Omobola Johnson (l) and Hamadou Toure (r)
Jean Philbert Nsengimana (l) and Joseph Mucheru (r)
  • Gordon Graylish, General Manager of Governments & World Ahead Division – Intel
  • Mr. Thierry Zomahoun, President & CEO, African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Next Einstein Initiative

    Gordon Graylish (l) and Thierry Zomahoun (r)
    Gordon Graylish (l) and Thierry Zomahoun (r)

The main point brought up is that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is not an option to be left out when it comes to making investments in Africa. As African governments, the importance of ICT cannot be ignored as almost every operation done within it rides on technology. ICT is a critical component of economy as long as there is transparency in leadership on how things work.

Why should an average/ordinary African care about ICT? Because it is great enabler for anyone in any economy, not just the government. It was pointed out that 60% of African youth will be on the job market this year and ICTs will create jobs for many of them.

The question ‘Why is Africa so unattractive in terms of ICT investments?’ was asked and the panelists stated that it’s because of a lack of knowledge or understanding of many technologies by people in the continent. There should be a push towards getting them more informed.

Too much charity from the West has given on the continent that focuses on other things like education and health or and ICT skills training or knowledge sharing is also just as important. Even when it comes down to government level, there’s pressure not to put ICT as priority when making investments, more on food, health and basic education.

Do we (Africa) have in-house capacity to create our own technology rather than import it? Africa needs to come into manufacturing chain of technology, create our own products. We have the minds and enough youth to develop ICTS, we just need to develop this revolution. ICT is one of those industries where brains are useful, and those brains need to be trained to maximize capacity. The government(s) and private sector must work together to harness the potential of ICTs in Africa.  High-end investment in science and technology is one investment that will definitely bring a return in GDP.

Africa needs to move to cashless societies were secure payments are made online. An ordinary African needs to be able to afford a smart device,and afford data bundle/access to use it. In some places, It costs almost 3 times more for Africans to access the internet than other continents.

If ICTs allowed to flourish, economies flourish. We need to reduce taxing at the point of investment, but we should understand that each country is different, so the execution of policies in ICT may differ depending on political and economic stability factors even if  agreed upon at one meeting to harness this technology revolution.

Africa has capacity to leap and take the lead in ICT innovation. The Africa we want is a “Smart Africa” and that requires connectivity and info sharing. Some recommendations towards achieving this are:

  • We need to lead more in and not catch up to ICT innovations made in other continents
  • Government needs to provide enabling environments for ICT revolution to take place. Governments must also push for the vision of ICT propelled futures in their regions.
  • We need to push for more women to take up STEM subjects
  • There needs to be removal of corruption when it comes to ICT infrastructure development deals
  • We need to look at how we tax telecoms companies because they in turn make service expensive for ordinary consumers
  • We need to start teaching IT skills to children as early as possible so they can build next generation in ICTs
  • We need to have tougher patenting laws for intellectual property on innovations in ICT. Africa intellectual property body a necessity for young ICT innovators
  • We need to make online content also indigenous to Africa so it’s relevant to locals
  • We need seed capital to support tech startups
  • There should be more investments in data centres, internet exchange points, content, business culture for ICT (think silicon valley) in Africa

Africa has ability to create its own software that solves its own problems e,g M-PESA in Kenya, because seriously this cannot be the only example of a technological success coming out of Africa. We need more. Technology can both be a disruptor and enabler, we need to legislate how to manage risks that come from the disruptive side of it.

One strong point regarding employment in the ICT sector is that every job can be transformed into a digital one, and for every good technology, atleast 5 other jobs can be created as long as there’s innovation by the people handling it.

(This week (23rd to 27th May 2016) is the Africa Development Bank Annual Meeting currently happening at the Mulungushi Conference Centre in Lusaka, Zambia. With the hashtag #AfDBAM2016 being a major source of information on what these sessions are focusing on, you can catch up there or check out the website http://www.afdb.org/en/annual-meetings-2016)


Tech Blogger & Marketer.