The African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and African ICT Ministers held a Ministerial Forum at AfricaCom that is happening on the sidelines of the Africa Tech Festival in Cape Town, South Africa — to discuss the methods to engineer a new sense of hope for Africa’s digital economy journey.
Under the theme ‘Rise Stronger with Digital Economy: New Paths towards a Resilient Recovery and Growth’, the forum was supported by Huawei discussed by John OMO; Secretary General at African Telecommunication Union, Hon. Emma Inamutila Theofelus; Deputy Minister of ICT, Namibia, Francis Bisika; Principal Secretary of e-Government Ministry of Information and Digitalization, Malawi, Hon. Chris Baryomunis; Minister of ICT & National Guidance, Uganda, and Percy Chinyama; National Coordinator at SMART Zambia Institute.
Introducing the session, Mr. John OMO; Secretary General at African Telecommunication Union (ATU) spoke about digital transformation as the driver of inclusive economic growth, job creation, the improvement of public service delivery, and the optimization of business services in Africa. He pointed out that Africa needs digital innovation to spill over into all segments of business and society if we [Africans] are to strengthen our digital economy.
“According to the World Bank, Africa requires US$100 trillion (approx. UGX376.8 quadrillion) to achieve full digital transformation, and no one, in the public or private sector, has the capacity to do this alone. Through the power of investment and of regulation, together we can craft a framework that will give effect to the growth and development we want to see,” OMO adds to his opening remarks.
Mr. Leo Chen, Huawei President of the Sub-Saharan Africa Region, in his address, emphasized the three major elements of digital transformation: digital infrastructure, digital services, and digital skills. “If we do these three things well, we can connect the unconnected people and businesses, fully unleash digital productivity, and develop the digital economy, no matter what its definition is,” he said.
The panelists were in consensus that digital infrastructure is fundamental to ensuring the digital transformation of their respective countries. In Malawi, according to Francis Bisika; Principal Secretary of the e-Government Ministry of Information and Digitalization, Malawi, 230,000km of fibre network has been installed across the country including the remote rural areas.
“We are addressing the issue of connectivity, especially in rural areas,” says Bisika. “We are also bringing fiber to the home, as well as business. Once we have the connectivity, we can address the issue of digital literacy.” He goes on to add that the government has built a data center in which they are accommodating businesses’ and individuals’ requests for networking and storage, making ICT facilities available to as many Malawians as possible.
What the guests [the panelists] also had in common is the integration through all government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) of the digitization process, for instance, in issues around agriculture and education — technology is being incorporated through their systems.
“The digital sector has been given authority in Zambia,” said Percy Chinyama; National Coordinator at SMART Zambia Institute. “We are working to maximize the work of revenue-generating departments and to reduce duplications of work and now have 240 government services online.”
ICT and climate change share equal importance in Namibia, according to Hon. Emma Inamutila Theofelus; Deputy Minister of ICT, Namibia. She said, “Digitisation and energy efficiency go hand in hand, and the government is committed to working to increase levels of digitization and reducing our impact on climate change.”
Another theme was that of the inclusion of youth in the continent’s digital transformation. Given that 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, harnessing and retaining the innovation of its young people is critical for the future of Africa. On this matter, Hon. Chris Baryomunis; Minister of ICT & National Guidance, Uganda said, “Even as we have increased the number of tertiary education institutions, levels of unemployment remain a problem, and so we are working towards greater job creation for graduates.”
The forum closed with the signature of a joint communique where all participants agreed that the development of the digital economy is measurable. In order to develop the digital economy, African countries need to have in place a top-level strategy and an implementation roadmap, with clear objectives, indicators, and milestones.
They also need favorable policies to encourage investment, improve efficiency, and enable the infrastructure, skills, digital ecology, and innovation needed to grow the digital economy and create a fair business environment for all investors.