ITU Scribe Urges African Governments to Invest in SMEs

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Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Houlin Zhao

Emma Okonji

The Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Houlin Zhao has called on African governments to invest more in technology startups who are mainly Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), in order to fast-track Africa’s digital transformation.

Zhao, who made the call during the closing press conference at the just concluded ITU Telecoms World 2018, which held in Durban, South Africa, said ITU had long realised the importance of SMEs, even though they are not financially strong at their early stage of development, and has decided to shift focus to SMEs, which he said, remained strong drivers of digital revolution of a nation, if given the appropriate government support.

He therefore, called on African governments to consider investing more in SMEs to enable them get the necessary support that would propel them into creating disruptive solutions that would address specific organisational, individual and national issues.

“Since the inception of ITU in 1865 in Europe, which is over 153 years ago, the focus of ITU, which is the United Nation’s specialised agency for information and communications technology (ICT) development, has not been on SMEs, but this year, we decided to shift our focus on SMEs, which are mainly young people that are using technology to not only disrupt existing ways of doing businesses, but to also create solutions that address specific challenges,” Zhao said.

According to him, “although SMEs are not economically strong at their formative stages, but they can turn out to be the drivers of economies, because they are digital natives that understand technology faster.”
He equally called on global leaders to give exposure to their SMEs by sponsoring them to ITU conferences where they will have opportunities to showcase their solutions to the entire world.

The South African Minister of Communications and Postal Services, Mr. Cyprain Cwelle, who was also at the ITU closing press conference, said the South African government had partnered SMEs to further expose them and grow their businesses to profitability. According to him, “South Africa’s

digital transformation is hinged on three pillars: Women, Youths and SMEs and we will continue to support SMEs, the same way we are supporting the youths and women in the society.”

“In South Africa, we have developed Centre for ICT Development, which is designed to support technology growth among startups and SMEs,” Cwelle said.

Chairman, Board of Commissioners, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye said the need to support SMEs growth was imperative, hence Nigeria sponsored six SMEs startups to this year’s ITU Telecoms World conference, in order to give them international exposure.

“Nigeria will do everything possible to be part of the fourth revolution, which is about knowledge economy, having missed out in the first, second and third revolutions,” Durojaiye said.