ICT in Africa Post COVID-19
On Thursday, July 23, 2020, Corporate Council on Africa hosted a webinar focused on ICT in Africa Post COVID-19, entitled Digital Solutions and Economic Recovery. Barbara Keating, Founder and President of Computer Frontiers moderated the panel discussion.
Thomas Hardy, Acting Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency gave opening remarks in which he discussed USTDA’s Access Africa Initiative. The Access Africa initiative has brought together 14 U.S. industry members who represent all facets of ICT development and the initiative aims to help ensure a post-COVID increase in continental connectivity.
H.E. Joseph Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT, Republic of Kenya, highlighted how COVID-19 forced Kenya to become more interconnected. Kenya’s government had video conferences with hospitals across the world to understand pandemic management, partnered with Google on Internet balloons that facilitate rural internet access, and is innovating with digital technology in education, health, governance and other areas. C.S. Mucheru mentioned an ambitious program that facilitates the hiring of 0.5 million young Kenyans to work for the national hygiene program. This provides many young people, who are paid via mobile money, with an economic opportunity. The pandemic has prioritized the digital agenda across Africa and highlighted the need for intellectual property protection and mentorship to help companies scale up.
Christopher Legrand, CEO of BroadReach Group, an innovator in e-health services, encouraged African governments to consider where their data resides. He argued that countries’ data should live in the Cloud rather than within the countries themselves. Mr. Legrand mentioned that “COVID has forced us to innovate and adopt to new ways of working fueled by technology.” New developments will democratize information, show the power of AI, and lessen Africa’s dependency on foreign aid. BroadReach Group responded to the pandemic by running facility assessments, screening over 2 million South Africans for COVID-19, and developing technology that processes 300 screenings/minute.
Bode Abifarin, COO at Flutterwave Inc., emphasized the importance of supporting SMEs during COVID-19. Flutterwave Stores, an e-commerce platform, was conceived as part of Flutterwave’s “Keep the Lights On” Project. The e-commerce store started in April 2020 and about 5000 African businesses have signed up to develop their online presence. Ms. Abifarin also pointed out that Central Banks, the primary regulator for payment companies, have put in place policies in most countries that facilitate e-business, but enforcement and implementation of the policies need improvement.
Charles Murito, Director, Sub-Saharan Africa – Government Affairs and Public Policy of Google, discussed Google’s response to COVID-19 in areas like quality information, education and economic impact. Mr. Murito referred to SMEs as “the lifeblood of African economies” and highlighted how Google helps them access funds, online services, and customers. In 2017, Google committed to train 10 million Africans in digital skills. This program moved online during COVID-19 and has since more than doubled its participants. On policies, Mr. Murito stressed the need for a balanced approach to content regulations and e-commerce taxation.
President and CEO of CCA, Florie Liser, closed out the discussion by reiterating the importance of the private sector’s role in digital innovation across Africa.