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ICT Investment and Partnership, key to fuelling Africa

BY: Nehemia Owusu Achiaw

The President of Huawei Technologies in charge of southern Africa, Mr Li Peng has observed that investment in information and communication technology (ICT) and partnership hold the trump card to fuelling Africa’s digital growth and development.

He, therefore, underscored the need for African countries to develop a master plan to direct investment and attract the best talent in ICT to speed up the socio-economic transformation of the continent.

For instance, he said Germany's “Industry 4.0” and “the Made in China 2025” initiatives had been designed to make the manufacturing industries in those countries more robust and meaningful through the use of information and communication technology.

Mr Li was sharing his thoughts about ICT investment and development in Africa in a statement released in South Africa last Thursday.

Huawei Technologies is the largest telecom equipment manufacturer and network solutions provider in China and the third largest in the world.

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Under its corporate social responsibility programmes in Ghana, Huawei has donated ICT equipment to University of Ghana (UG), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), University of Cape Coast (UCC) and University for Development Studies (UDS).

Great potential

Mr Li said digitisation also had the greatest employment effect and great potential for the achievement of several key United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Making reference to the World Bank statistics, Mr Li said every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration could lead to two per cent to three per cent increase of employment rate.

In 2016, China's digital economy created 2.8 million jobs, accounting for 21 per cent of the total new jobs.

Japanese government's 2015 White Paper on Information and Communications indicated that if small businesses could fully adopt ICT technologies such as cloud services, they would be able to create about 200,000 jobs.

Mr Li said similarly, research had shown a 90 per cent correlation could be seen between investments in ICT and a country's’ success in meeting several key United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs).

The African Union Agenda 2063 has acknowledged the importance of digital Inclusivity for African countries to bring the continent on par with the rest of the world as an information society.

Rapid advancements

Rapid advancements in information communications technologies (ICT) over the past 20 years have substantially altered the ways in which people live, work, play and interact with one another.

A World Bank’s World Development report shows that ICT has a positive effect on a country’s economy, with a 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration being associated with a 1.4 per cent increase in gross domestic product (GDP) growth in emerging markets.

Mr Li said under the smart community strategy of the Malaysian government, the digital economy had grown to make up 17 per cent of total GDP within just three years, which had made that country one of the world's highest ranking countries in that regard.

In the current information age, Mr Li said, development of ICT should be prioritized on a par with other forms of infrastructure and basic services crucial to society such as electricity, water, roads.

In spite of the enormous opportunities offered by the ICT, he said there were still some challenges in availability, accessibility and affordability including geographic challenges of reaching small, remote communities, poverty and lack of basic knowledge and skills.

Statistics, he said, showed approximately 53 percent of the world’s population was still unconnected, and 80 percent of the unconnected people were in Asia-Pacific and Africa.

“On average, 69 percent of the African population do not have access to internet, with many of those unconnected living in rural areas.“

Challenges always come with opportunities. To solve these challenges, we need to take a cross-sector approach and we need to think differently about how to address the business model challenge.

“To tackle this issue, some of the solutions available include a master plan to direct investment and attract the best talents, new innovations that enable lower cost, policies that can lower the barriers of digital transformation,” he said.

For example, Thailand provides subsidies to encourage ICT infrastructure construction in rural areas; Italy encourages carriers and electric companies to work together in laying out optical fiber; Saudi Arabia allows carriers to mount sites on streetlamps and regulations in Germany requiring the installation of fiber-optic cables in all new houses and roads.

Need for innovations

Mr Li said there was also the need for innovative business models that could generate more benefits for users and to provide users with the skills to use and benefit from smartphones.

That, he said, would enable telecom operators to generate more revenue.

“Mobile money is one of the best examples. With the right skills and content, users can also access educational content, learn how to improve yields on their farms, and get better prices for their cattle or crops. This will directly enable them to increase their incomes and both drive and enable greater spend on communications, hence improve the investment rationale,” he added.

Partnerships

Embracing those solutions, Mr Li said required cross-sector partnerships and new thinking which could directly translate into higher availability, accessibility and affordability of ICT services.

“This will lead to a future where everyone can is able to access the Internet to unleash their own potential to create value and create economic and social gains for themselves and to exercise and enjoy their rights to a better quality of life, dignity and equality,” he said.