Rwanda for the second time hosted, a continental tech event, Transform Africa Summit, with this year’s gathering focusing on accelerating digital innovation. Held last week, the summit attracted over 800 firms from 80 countries all seeking opportunities for business and partnerships.Among the firms that took part in the summit was Ericsson, a multinational provider of communication technology and services which already has multiple interests in the country.
The New Times’ Collins Mwai caught up with Shiletsi Makhofane, the head of Government and industry relations at Ericsson for insights about the summit, his firm’s interests in Rwanda and an expert’s opinion on the way forward for the industry.
Below are the excerpts:
What are your general thoughts of the Second Transform Africa Summit, from attendance to the sessions held?
This being the second summit, it is impressive to see the improvement and growth in the summit’s agenda and priorities. We were impressed by the theme, ‘Accelerating Digital Innovation’ noting that that is where the world is headed in terms of technology advancements.
If you look at the numbers, the turnout was very good, over 2500 delegates from over 80 countries. It was a good converging point for the various stakeholders to be able to deliberate on possible partnerships and explore opportunities jointly.
If you look at the agenda, it was well balanced, in terms of the variety of topics and panelists addressing delegates.
What are your firm’s current interests in the country? What specific areas are you venturing into?
We have been very impressed by the government of Rwanda by the way they have been a leader in the implementation of Smart Africa Manifesto and pushing for ICT adoption. Through that we have chosen to partner with the government to promote that drive.
Ericsson has been a key player on the African continent since 1896 working with governments, it is interesting to venture into Rwanda and support the rollout of Smart Solutions.
In Rwanda, we are working on smart integrated transport solutions. Part of the system was in use during the summit through the buses that were transporting delegates.
It incorporates cashless payments systems as well as a system to enable passengers track the busses to know where it is and what time it will collect them. We are working to make sure that it is the way forward for the country and the rest of the continent.
We are also looking at supporting the provision of smart energy through smart metering, smart grid because it helps users have valuable information in terms of their consumption patterns. It also helps the utility companies to be able to study the usage patterns to make decisions of supply and demand.
That way there is a two-way communication between the user and the supplier for effective decision making.
The entrance of firms such as yours into the Rwanda market causes excitement to a section of industry players as there could be some opportunities for them as you roll out solutions. In this case are there any opportunities for local enterprises?
Of course, there are certain things that we do ourselves, but to develop smart solutions you require a whole ecosystem. You should be able to work and partner with the developing and developed enterprises in the country.
Smart Solutions mean creating a new value chain; it means it is important to ensure that the various components of the chain have enough players. There will definitely be multiple opportunities for other players in the process.
There will also be job creation to utilise the skills being developed in the local higher learning institutions. We will require skilled manpower in all the areas we venture into.
So far how has the reception by the government and other industry players been?
For us we have received a very warm welcome in the country and support from the government. If we and other private sector players received the same the level of support we have received in Rwanda across the continent, there is going to be a very big trajectory of change in the coming years. It is very encouraging for us and we are working to achieve maximum results through it.
It is warm route towards public private partnerships to develop the continent.
Part of the agenda of the conference was to seek commitment from key stakeholders and players for the future of the sector. According to you, who comprises the key stakeholders and drivers of the sector?
Government plays a big role in technology development and roll out. Our belief is that technology, markets and policy need to work together. You need a policy to make sure that things are working in the best interest of players and beneficiaries; you need a market that can take the affordable products that you bring to the market.
The technology also requires being in tune with the requirements of the policy as well as what the market needs.
From our perspective, the leadership comes from the market at times, other times from the policy perspective and from a supply perspective at other times.
In the implementation of the Smart Africa manifesto, there are areas that will be private sector driven, others consumer driven, other sectors will be due to technology factors and there will be areas that will require partnerships between the government and private sector.
Among the areas that Ericsson is venturing into is facilitating rollout of a cashless economy through public transport payment solutions. Is there much of an opportunity there?
The key thing that we need to facilitate is empowerment and inclusion. For us to do that, we need to digitize money and make it accessible and usable in multiple ways. It has multiple impacts including saving on time that would have otherwise been spent trying to access banks.
It also improves of the safety of one’s money and there is also easy accountability of income of firms that are paid via cashless payment systems.
In Rwanda we are going to facilitate full interoperability which will help drop the costs of using the cashless payments systems and ensure that a greater percentage of the population is financially included.
What is the suitability of the country for the adoption of a cashless economy?
Rwanda fairs well and stands an opportunity to exploit the potential of cashless economy, first of all the country has outlined a vision complete with goals on what they seek to achieve. There has also been a good job done in mapping out the partners and stakeholders who are crucial for the process.
That is a very important milestone so far. Going forward it will be important to make it a goal of a bigger market beyond Rwanda to take into account the trends of people moving and doing business across the region.
According to you, what should be the next step in the implementation of the Smart Africa Manifesto?
The next step is to continue showing more tangible projects, we should speed up implementation, roll out more projects that will create the much sought impact. The more we can speed up connectivity, bringing together the continent, our youth will be innovative and there will be a bigger market for their products and services.
We should go beyond focusing on one country as a market; it is time we looked at the whole Africa as a market waiting to be explored. We can do that by making sure that the key infrastructure is there for the next steps of development.
We should also focus using technology to impact on the sectors that are crucial for the economy such as transport and energy among others to as the ICT sector can have maximum impact on social economic development.
Any last comments?
As Ericsson, we carry out research around the world to customize our technology as per market needs and trends, in that we can see a future where everything that can be connected will be connected.
That means that Africa should move and embrace the digital world and in that digital world, let’s make sure that ICT is cross cutting for it to be relevant to a number of sectors such as health, education among others.