While Africa is on the verge of a technological revolution, telecommunication players are agitating for the addressing of policy bottlenecks to position digital connectivity as a key enabler of the continental’s transformation.
The experts were speaking Monday at the Transform Africa Economic Forum, in a panel discussion dubbed Digital Connectivity, an enabler and Foundation.
The panel featured among others, Rob Shuter, Chief Executive of MTN Group, Atef Helmy, Senior Director, Orange, MEA, Chérif Antigou, General Manager, Guinea Post and Telecommunication Authority Regulator (ARPT) and Amrote Abdella, General Manager, Microsoft 4Afrika
According to the panelists, new goods, services and business models are driving innovation, facilitating communication and collaboration, fostering efficiency and transparency, but a lot needs to be done from the policy point of view for digital connectivity to play its role in the realisation of a Smart Africa.
Speaking on the panel, Shuter said that telecommunication operators in Africa are ready to play their role in the achievement of a single regional market and enable digital transformation on the continent, but infrastructure and policy frameworks remain a challenge.
“Cyber Security and fraud are a big concern in the digital world. The more harmonisation of policies, implementation and innovations, the smoother the integrations will be,” he added.
Statistics from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) show a rapid growth in mobile phone usage in Africa with 80.8 per cent mobile penetration and 25.10 per cent internet penetration.
Globally, the value of cross-border data has surpassed that of goods. Data has become the new oil, the study shows. However, infrastructure and harnessing the benefits of this “new oil” are still challenges.
Helmy, the Senior Director, Orange, said that the telcos’ current market is more youthful and digital which is why removing infrastructural barriers will go a long way in setting foundation for ICT to enable Africa’s transformation.
His comments were echoed by Abdella, who acknowledged that digital transformation is necessary to remain relevant and competitive in the future, and it unlocks huge potential on an individual, organisational and country level – which is why there is need to create an ecosystem where affordable access to technology becomes a reality and is all inclusive.
“Maturing on the digital transformation journey includes implementing both technology advancements and cultural changes, resulting in new business models or industry disruption.” Abdella said.
“It’s instrumental to get the right policies in place to make the single digital market a reality…how do we build capacities and right skills as well as enabling environment for the youth, startups and entrepreneurs to thrive and become globally competitive? Technology plays a critical role,” Abdella stressed.
On the newly adopted Continental Free Trade Area agreement, African telecom experts are of the view that implementation is imperative in making sure digital revolution become an enabler for the regional transformation.