Africa's Digital Transformation – Special Report


By Dolapo Aina

Global names (firms, government officials, experts, Information Technology geeks and aficionados) converged on Kigali, the capital of Rwanda for Transform Africa Summit 2015 to brainstorm, articulate, examine and also take stock and proffer or streamline the achievements Africa had and has made in the digital world. And also, to lay the path for the appropriate or next phase of the digization of Africa. From a personal perspective; some of the statistics unearthed and churned out by the panellists on the first day were encouraging and quite mindboggling to say the least e.g. India has about 1billion people. One connectivity policy. Africa has just under 1billion people and 54 nations and 54 ICT policies. Some would say, Africa is not a country but a continent!

The opening speech by Rwanda’s Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi was laced with salient points. Paraphrasing him; he opined that; in Africa, broadband connectivity had increased and still on the increase; largely spearheaded by the internet. And that in Rwanda, the citizens had noticed; increased output in service delivery since broadband connectivity was introduced. Another undeniable truth in his speech is the fact that; in the past decade, Africa has experienced exponential growth in the private and public sectors through broadband. The statistics are quite encouraging. For example, during the press conference which had in attendance Houlin Zhao, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, Minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana and Francis Gatare CEO of Rwanda Development Board answering questions; it was reported that in 2007, $50billion worth of investments was envisaged in 5 years. Alas, in 2013, the Africa Development Bank discovered that about $70billion worth of investments had been invested in Africa.

With the convergence of ICT minds from across the globe; the first day’s sessions and panellists were churning out amazing and intellectually stimulating opinions, criticism, tasking questions and solutions to some of Africa’s lingering challenges in the digital world.

During the opening session, Jean Philbert Nsengimana; Rwanda’s Youth and ICT Minister, made some well-articulated comments, which should get Africans thinking. He posited that being digitally smart, is being connected. Being smart is about sharing and being smart is by measuring. Another panellist posited thatthere are businesses who are just a year or two years in operation and breaking the $1billion mark. And that this is achievable in Africa. Another panellist posited that cheaper broadband services reduce the prices of mobile devices. And that government in Africa must set up clear government strategies; so that companies would know the areas in the digital sector the firms can come in and assist.

Some of the most articulated opinions were not hard to come by. And the Rwandan ICT Minister spoke about the challenges for Africa in digitization, which he highlighted as energy, digital literacy (but don’t forget that literacy is of utmost importance) and cyber security. But of note was an Indian who posed an interesting question which went thus while promoting digital innovation; how do we stop digital addiction? Another panellist’s view was that Africans should design digital solutions and products for her citizens. Because we know what we want and need.

In a nutshell, the digital transformation in Africa is gathering momentum and the achievements are visible. But it must be said that there is much work to be done. And one question by a panellist that should keep on ringing into the recollective skulls of African leaders and Africans and which should be implemented; went thus, what are foreign and homegrown telecommunication firms doing to organise programming competitions in African Universities?

I dare rehash the question by postulating and asking, why don’t we as Africans begin to inculcate, implement or infuse digital age education into the educational syllabus from elementary or at least primary school level as is being seen in some advanced-thinking economies? Lest you forget, the clock-making American teenager Ahmed Mohamed is moving to Qatar after accepting scholarship. In un-grandiloquent English, catch them young.

Like Elon Musk said; I could either watch it happen, or be part of it. Africa has to be part of the digital age and story.

Kigali, Rwanda


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