Experts at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) Kigali have advocated for the “digitalisation of everything” in Africa as a means to boost economic growth and development on the continent.
With the increasing influence of technology in various sectors globally, these experts believe that Africa should harness its potential and embrace digital transformation on an unprecedented scale.
Running from Tuesday, October 17 until October 19, the meeting is one of Africa’s most influential connectivity events and brings together the continental and international tech community, businesses from broad technology industries and other sectors, political leaders, and so on.
The call comes as Africa continues to face significant challenges across a range of industries, including healthcare, agriculture, education, and infrastructure. Experts argue that by digitalising these sectors, Africa can overcome limitations and leapfrog into a new era of progress and prosperity.
Among Tuesday’s sessions was one on the “digitalisation of everything” where various officials discussed the need for extensively digitalising Africa as a way of bringing about development and improving standards of living.
Addressing the participants, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, hinted on a number of challenges to digitalisation including access to devices, unawareness, limited infrastructure and digital skills and so on.
Delegates chat during the Mobile World Congress (MWC) Kigali on Tuesday, October 17. Photo by Emmanuel Dushimimana
For example, she noted that there are many people who still don’t use mobile internet, yet they live in areas that are covered by mobile broadband, noting that the usage gap reaches close to 60 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“In Sierra Leone, I want to give this example: 80 percent of schools are actually covered by 3G or 4G. But less than 2 percent of schools that have this coverage are actually connected to the internet,” she said.
“We need to focus our efforts on everything that can make connectivity more meaningful,” she noted.
Mats Granryd, the Director General of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), a non-profit industry organisation that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, showcased optimism about the continent’s digitalisation, noting that mobile data traffic in the Sub Saharan region is forecasted to quadruple.
He noted that this is something that demands preparation by the operators like telecom companies to provide interoperable, commercially viable solutions to the consumers and the industry.
“We want to continue to invest in connectivity for the many, not just the very few. When we look to the future of 4G, it’s going to be the main focus in Africa over the next few years,” he said.
“But 5G is growing quickly too. By September this year, almost 30 operators in 16 markets had launched commercial 5G services in the region. And in 2030, 5G will contribute 11 billion US dollars to the economy in Sub Saharan Africa. So there is plenty, plenty of good growth for us. Now as 5G matures, we need to create scalable, interoperable, and commercially viable solutions that will benefit operators, industries, consumers, everywhere,” he added.
Furthermore, proponents of digitalisation emphasize that it has the potential to foster entrepreneurship and job creation. With a growing population of tech-savvy youth, Africa can capitalise on this demographic advantage by providing them with the necessary tools, skills, and support to thrive in the digital economy.
Ebenezar asante, the Senior Vice President (SVP) of Markets at MTN Group, talked about the importance of Africa leapfrogging the digitalisation of everything but argued that in doing so, the continent’s people “must not only be consumers but also creators and suppliers of digital solutions.”
He called for enhancements in the education system so that it fosters creativity and problem solving.
John Kaseya, the Director General of the Africa CDC called for more digitalisation of the continent’s health systems.
“Digital health systems have an invaluable role to play in strengthening primary healthcare and supporting community health initiatives towards achieving universal health coverage,” he said.
“Africa CDC last year embarked on what we call the new public health order and three months ago our governing board of ministers of health approved a new strategic plan 2023-2027 which identifies digital health as a critical enabler that will allow Africa to catch up with the lost ground in many areas of public health,” he noted.