Enhancing ICT Development in Africa

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Connectivity, capacity building, creativity and regional collaboration, are key factors that will bridge the digital divide and enhance technology development across African regions, writes Emma Okonji

Mauritius and South Africa are the only countries in the top 50 out of the 144 countries in the Networked Readiness Index (NRI) calculated by the World Economic Forum (WEF)). Nine of the 10 African nations at the bottom include Nigeria, which ranks 134.

Disturbed by the poor state of infrastructural development in Africa, which was clearly captured by the NRI report, eXtensia, the organiser of the yearly Innovation Africa Digital (IAD) summit, in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications and Galaxy Backbone, decided to host this year’s summit in Nigeria, in partnership with private sector organisation like MTN, among others.

The organisers said the focus of this year’s IAD Summit was to strengthen Africa’s collaboration across regions through the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) tools for good and thorough collaborative, shared experience that would facilitate infrastructural development in Africa and at the same time, bridge the digital divide in Africa.

The Chief Executive Officer of eXtensia, a UK based organisation with focus in African development, Mr. Tariq Malik said: “We know and accept that ICT is a tool that will drive technology development in Africa. The IAD Summit is ready to use such tool, through collaborative thinking to help accelerate the closing of the digital divide in Africa.”

About IAD Summit
The IAD summit is an annual event, which focuses on Africa development in the area of infrastructure spread across regions in Africa. The summit, which is in its 14th year, has been hosted by 13 different African countries, including South Africa, Egypt, Gambia, Zimbabwe, among others. For the first time in the history of summit, Nigeria hosted its 14th edition in Abuja last week, where over 450 delegates from 45 countries across the globe attended.
The focus of the summit is essentially to drive demand for infrastructural development that will boost economic growth across Africa. The organisers of the summit believe that Africa has the potential to develop technologically, despite its nanny challenges, and they are of the view that collaborative ICT deployment across Africa, will drive infrastructural development across African regions.

Over the years, the summit teams have worked with global technology leaders, regional service providers and national policymakers to identify and spur Africa’s digital aspirations. Each summit builds on the successes and experiences of the previous events. The summit also feature unique blend of key stakeholders from across industry, government, academia and civil society.

Benefit to Nigeria
Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Galaxy Backbone, Mr. Yusuf Kazaure, while welcoming African delegates to the summit, said: “Hosting IAD Summit in Nigeria did not only provide a robust platform to demonstrate the importance of ICT as a central pillar Nigeria’s socio-economic development in the 21st century, it also supports the growth of Africa’s telecoms and ICT sectors, especially in view of the dire economic challenges facing the continent.”

The hosting comes with a lot of benefits for Nigeria. For instance we had 450 attendees that registered and participated for the summit, out of which 250 attendees were from African countries, with majority from Nigeria.
“The attendees are key stakeholders in ICT that are looking for ways to invest in Africa technology ecosystem, because they have seen that ICT is a catalyst for national development. So we have policy decision makers from other countries being hosted in Nigeria, and by so doing, Nigeria is exhibiting its leadership position in Africa. Again, the hosting will help increase ICT contribution to GDP from its current 10 per cent. The hosting will make Nigerian government see the need to invest in ICT to enable the country move from mono economy that depends only on oil, to diversified economy, through ICT,” Kazaure said.

He explained that African countries have peculiar challenges, which is about weak institution and weak infrastructural development, which he said could be addressed through the summit.

MTN Executive, Amina Oyagbola, at the opening ceremony of the summit noted that the summit is more about prescriptions for future growth and success and that is why the theme, “Harnessing Africa’s Digital Growth”, is apt and timely.
“It presupposes rightly that Africa is at a critical stage of its digital growth and increased efforts should be made to further develop the ICT sector and improve its contribution to the GDPs of African countries,” she said.

ICT investments
Speaking on ICT investments in Nigeria, Oyagbola said in Nigeria, the revolution in the ICT sector has provided well over $32 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) over the last 15 years.
“As part of that ICT ecosystem and guided by our recognition of the boundless potential of our great nation within the digital economy, MTN has invested over $16 billion (over N3 trillion) to date in fixed assets and facilities nationwide to build the most expansive network in the country,” she said.

“Such investments in infrastructure have created an ICT backbone that powers various critical sectors of the economy such as Banking, E-commerce, Insurance, Oil & Gas. Little wonder that mobile and broadband infrastructure have been described as the infrastructure of infrastructures,” she added.

She commended the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu in the area of ICT development in Nigeria, for his vision to develop Nigeria’s ICT sector towards achieving a ‘Smart Digital Nigeria’.
“From education to financial inclusion, agriculture to solid minerals, e-government to mobile health, ICT is a fulcrum for ensuring maximum impact across key elements involving people, processes and productivity. ICT can re-tool and upskill people in every sector; upgrade processes for greater operational efficiency and enhance productivity for stronger growth while attracting further investment,” Oyagbola said.

She said the bank-led financial inclusion in Nigeria has been fueled by digital technology, facilitating the entry of millions of people from the informal sector who did not have access to formal financial services.
“As we continue to celebrate success stories in this regard such as Mpesa Mobile Money in Kenya and Diamond Y’ello Account in Nigeria, we should be further energised by the figures which indicate the millions yet to be brought into the greater economic opportunity and socio-economic mobility facilitated by mobile and digital banking,” Oyagbola added.
She advised that beyond this summit, Africans must work to strengthen relationships and knowledge management platforms towards building the better and more digital future for the African continent.

Quest for ICT development
According to Kazaure, the global quest for ICT for development is enormous to both developed and developing countries.
This is because ICT skills are critical to the success of enhancing national development in a globalised era. In this regards, African governments should be focused on creating opportunities for citizenship participation in ICT training, knowledge and skills acquisition, and general application and usage of ICT tools to solve problems, promote their wellbeing and enhance national growth.

No doubt, with the dwindling revenue from oil and gas, the federal government of Nigeria has realised more than ever before that telecommunication and ICT are among the main drivers for the social and economic development of Nigeria and play a vital role in enhancing access to basic services in all sectors of our national life. With a significant percentage of the Nigeria’s population having access to mobile cellular services, the increasing and sustained growth in internet usage and broadband deployment, the government through the Ministry of Communications and its various Smart project initiatives, is focused on leveraging ICTs to create a robust economy. Global issues as the digital divide, cyber-insecurity, emergency telecommunications and climate change enjoy varying levels of prioritisation in the change agenda of the government and central to its strategies and work programmes.

I am aware that Galaxy Backbone Limited, established in 2006 as a government owned company and charged to deliver connectivity and other information and communication technology infrastructure to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government, currently has up to 350 MDAs of government connected to its 1-GOV.Net in over 4000 office locations nationwide making it the largest single network ever developed in the public sector in Africa. It is even more noteworthy that Galaxy Backbone’s 1-GOV.NET initiative – a common network infrastructure platform – was benchmarked with global best practices and the company emerged in the 2013 United Nations Public Service Award as 1st Place Winner for “Promoting Whole-of-Government Approaches in the Information Age” for its 1-GOV.NET initiative.

Govt’s position
Speaking on government position on ICT development in Nigeria and across Africa, Adebayo said the time has now come for governments to fully embrace ICT to enhance lives of its citizens, to enhance transparency and good governance if we really are to fulfill the “Change” mandate that will bring about development.

“ICT has come a long way and is currently contributing about 10 per cent to GDP as Oil and Gas. It is arguably one of the fastest growing sectors of the Nigerian economy and is the second largest ICT market in Africa. ICT, which already employs more Nigerians than the oil and gas sector is poised to drive growth. Industry analysts suggest that the ICT tools and devices, software solution, IT outsourcing and the e-Commerce sector alone could employ over 40 million Nigerians and contribute billions of dollars to our economy when appropriately channelled and nurtured,” he said.

The minister therefore called on African governments to take the summit seriously and make efforts to develop the African continent, through the deployment of ICT tools.
“The use of ICT to drive efficiency, transparency and cost reduction especially in this era of shared services cannot be over emphasised,” Adebayo said.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, said the Nigerian government would continue to collaborate with other African countries to drive infrastructural development that would boost development across Africa.

ICT for social development

A panel discussion, which featured the Regional Coordinator UN Women, Fatou Ndiaye; and the Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation, Nonny Ugboma, discussed the use of ICT for social development.
Describing the great role that ICT plays in delivering corporate social responsibility (CSR) for social development, Ugboma said: “We at MTN Foundation have been able to use digital to create awareness that reaches a wide audience; our various projects have been amplified by digital and social media platforms resulting in many beneficiaries.”

She mentioned projects such as scholarship scheme for the blind, scholarship scheme for Science and Technology students, music scholarship and medical intervention scheme as some of the many projects of the foundation.
Ndiaye in her analysis observed that women were not benefiting as much as men in technology creation and usage. She identified lack of space in terms of access to information as a challenge and said that the UN has created a platform called “Empower Women” which is a global advocacy and knowledge platform to empower women and Nigeria has the most active women participation on the platform.

While responding to a question on the extent of MTN Foundation projects in the country, Ugboma said that about 6,000 persons have benefited from the scholarship scheme. She added that this is followed by an employability workshop where the students are taught relevant skills to help them survive in the job market and create their own jobs.
The key issues raised at the summit as summerised by Oyagbola, include connectivity, capacity building and collaboration among African countries.