The world of technology is changing rapidly and the African continent is changing with it. For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population is using the Internet – of all regions, the strongest growth has been reported in Africa.
It is a continent full of hope and innovation, in particular for ICT business. Africans have shown the world what they are capable of in areas such as mobile money and the elimination of roaming charges.
However, core challenges remain. Firstly, there is an urgent need to upgrade and develop Africa’s ICT infrastructure, and make it more affordable to boost the continent’s industrial capacity and digital economy. Secondly, while Africa has the potential to exceed expectations, appropriate policies must be put in place to achieve this extraordinary potential.
Tackling the ICT infrastructure issue
That is why we need to focus on what I call the “4 Is” − Infrastructure, Investment, Innovation and Inclusiveness.
We need to upgrade existing ICT infrastructure; I encourage you to read our 2019 report, ICT Infrastructure Business Planning Toolkit – Business Planning for Infrastructure Deployment.
We need to encourage more investment, from both the public and private sectors, and we need to create a good environment to attract investment. A common strategic framework, such as a Pan-Africa digital strategy and action plan, for example, can help overcome investment hurdles.
We need to ensure that no one is left behind in this digital revolution.
Alongside these new technologies, national regulators face new regulatory challenges and new business and investment models; they need to consider next-generation policy issues and safeguards for e-commerce, data flows and data protection.
From agriculture and transportation to banking and health, no sector of the economy is immune to digital transformation. As a result, ITU’s key concepts of “collaborative regulation” and “fifth-generation regulation” have been gaining momentum to describe the need for inclusive, up-to-date, flexible and market-driven ICT policy and regulatory frameworks.
African nations’ active participation in ITU’s flagship Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) and ITU Telecom World events highlight their commitment to achieving more open, collaborative and cross-sectoral regulation − not just for the benefit of consumers and businesses, but for all those who are still unconnected across the continent. Additionally, the outcomes of the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) will shape the next wave of technology that will benefit millions of people’s lives around the world.
ITU is very active in this area. For example, we are implementing the ITU-EU project ‘Increasing Wireless Broadband Penetration through Improved and Harmonized Spectrum Utilization and Regulation’ for African countries.
Africa’s time is now
This is a special moment in Africa’s history.
The creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area – which establishes a single market for goods and services, and a customs union, and enables the free movement of business travelers across 54 African countries – will have a big impact on the free movement of digital goods and services throughout the region. Crippling mobile roaming charges have been eliminated in most of East African and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries.
The Smart Africa initiative brings together over two-dozen African countries, with more on-track to join, to debate the latest issues in relation to ICT infrastructure and connectivity at the national, industrial and consumer level. I am proud to act as co-Chair of the Smart Africa Steering Committee.
Last March, ITU hosted a special meeting of ICT Ministers from across Africa at the ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The Ministers discussed how to boost ICT development, how to attract and encourage further ICT investment, and how to work together to facilitate new partnership opportunities so that Africa can reap the benefits of the digital economy.
But it is important to remember that Africans own their future; it is up to African public and private sector leaders to lead African development. We at ITU stand ready to help, and we will continue to work with our African partners to facilitate the emergence of digital economies and a single digital market for Africa.
This is a priority for me and I won’t stop until everybody realizes how game-changing ICTs can be for African countries – and what African leaders are doing to make this vision a reality.
This article was previously published on ‘Makingit Magazine’ Industry 2030 and is reproduced with permission.
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