What next for African digital revolution?

As African countries continue to make strides in economic development facilitated by the digital revolution, it is emerging that aspects such as digital infrastructure, shortage of capital and skilled labour, payment systems, data security and volumes of localised content could prevent nations from reaping the technological dividend.
Prof. Murenzi (2ndL) speaks during the panel discussion at the Transform Africa 2015 summit yesterday. (T. Kisambira)
Prof. Murenzi (2ndL) speaks during the panel discussion at the Transform Africa 2015 summit yesterday. (T. Kisambira)

As African countries continue to make strides in economic development facilitated by the digital revolution, it is emerging that aspects such as digital infrastructure, shortage of capital and skilled labour, payment systems, data security and volumes of localised content could prevent nations from reaping the technological dividend.

While setting the pace for the Transform Africa 2015 summit at a panel session dubbed, “Unlocking Africa’s Smart and Sustainable Economies,” panelists called for the review of education systems around the ICT sector as well as increased investments to improve access and affordability.

The three-day summit in Kigali has attracted more than 2,500 delegates from over 80 countries.

Panelists, drawn from government, multinationals and the academia, agreed that the future of Rwanda and other African countries in terms of growth potential as a digitally driven economy will be largely determined by the level of investments in the ICT sector as well as the quality of education.

Prof. Romain Murenzi, the director-general of the World Academy of Sciences, said to enjoy full benefits of technology and digitalisation, there is need for African countries to have a certain set of skills, which was currently still low.

Citing the skills gap that currently places Africa unfavourably, Murenzi said the entire continent produces about 2 per cent of the total research publications worldwide and that, of these, 75 per cent come from South Africa and Egypt alone.

“That reflects some of the challenges experienced by the continent in terms of skills and education. It shows that among the academia that our youth are learning from, there are few PhDs to effect the final output,” Murenzi said.

He said it was time to consider the kinds of skills present and being taught across all levels of education from primary, secondary and higher learning.

As a way forward, Murenzi said the digital age and globalisation presented new opportunities as African learners have many alternatives to choose from to pursue higher learning as opposed to days when the only options were the US or UK.

“There are options such as China, Brazil and Turkey among other countries that offer masters degrees and PhDs that are very competitive,” said Murenzi, a former minister for education in Rwanda.

Murenzi further pointed out the need to pursue innovations such as online courses and smart classrooms as a more suitable way to promote learning among students of all categories.

Improve business climate

The private sector called for an improved business climate and closer relations with the public sector to improve regulatory frameworks and policies.

Cynthia Gordon, the executive vice-president of Millicom Group, the parent company of Tigo-Rwanda, said the private sector was ready to make commitments toward necessary investments but urged governments to consider conducive regulatory frameworks and policies, including tax incentives.

“We need to live and work in an environment where we have customers,” she said, adding that it was time for the private and public sector to study the best case examples as well as the most relevant strategies for the next phase of digital revolution.

Tarik Alatovic, the principal at McKinsey and Company, a management consulting firm, said there were possibilities for the continent to overcome the challenges by stepping up the private public partnerships that would improve the business environment.

Fredrik Jejdling, the president and chief executive of Ericsson sub-Saharan Africa, said for the private sector’s case, it was a matter of having in place better business models that would facilitate the digital revolution process and maintain relevance to the market.

The experts also noted that building from the experience of implementation of the Smart Africa manifesto that was adopted in the inaugural Transform Africa summit, leadership, investments by the private sector and skills development would be important.

Youth and ICT minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana, who was also on the panel, said the manifesto had made it possible to incorporate ICT into several aspects of day-to-day life, including business.

Further implementation of the manifesto, he said, would require education, committed leadership and partnership to have the necessary investments available.

The second edition of the summit, under the theme, “Accelerating Digital Innovation,” opened yesterday.

It offers a platform for dialogue and deal-making between governments and the private sector on technology solutions and provide a space for young innovators from Africa to showcase their potential for creating home grown innovations.

 

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