Africa can be a major player in global digital economy: Smart Africa CEO
In April this year, Smart Africa, a consortium of African states and organisations dedicated to the acceleration of access to information and communication technologies (ICT) on the continent and to a thriving digital economy, held its Transform Africa Summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. This was the first time the Summit was held outside of Kigali, which is where Smart Africa is headquartered.
For Lacina Koné, CEO of Smart Africa, the Summit was a success. Attended by five heads of state alongside ministers from 44 countries and over 4000 delegates from 91 countries around the world, it also saw the consummation of several significant deals for the continent’s digital future. For Koné, the Summit was an opportunity to confirm the organisation’s strategy and once again put to the fore some of the key agenda points that need to be addressed if the continent is not to be left behind by the digital revolution.
Three factors that will shape Africa’s digital future
From where he sits, Koné sees three important factors that will shape Africa’s digital future.
1. Abundance of youth talent
One of these factors is the continent’s abundance of talented youth. “Africa is the youngest continent in the world and with the current improvement in education quality in conjunction with digital skills, Africa may become the continent with the most ingenious workforce,” he says.
With tech-focused institutions of training springing up around the continent, including in Rwanda and Kenya training is improving. At the same time, global tech brands such as Google, Meta, IBM and Microsoft are setting up on the continent, providing an avenue to nurture and develop these talents of young people coming out of the institutions of learning.
And with companies in the West looking to outsource digital engineering jobs, Africa could become a ready source, just as India was for back-office operations in the previous surge of outsourcing. The combination of these factors, Koné is convinced, will make Africa a force to reckon with in digital innovation in the not-too-distant future.
2. Representative African datasets
The other important factor that will have a significant influence on the continent is how data from the continent can be incorporated into artificial intelligence data sets to make it fairer and more representative.
As the AI revolution has gathered steam, concerns have been raised by its alleged unrepresentativeness and reported propensity to be Western-focused in its outcomes. Koné thinks that concern may soon be addressed, as efforts to harness African data become more successful. “The dawn of the digital transformation is about to change that,” he says. “In the coming year we will see the generation of African datasets that will enable us to build up African representation and ensure that we are not left behind in the AI revolution.”
As proof, he points to the rollout of e-citizen programmes in Kenya, Ghana, Benin, Rwanda, Senegal and other countries. These will bring thousands of government services online and produce reams of data, as users leave their digital footprints while accessing those services. Much needs to be done to resolve issues around data ownership, privacy and data protection: but he says that the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a good reference point.
From an African perspective, another helpful initiative is the Masakhane project, which seeks to spur research into and help improve natural language processing (NLP) for African languages. Koné is quick to differentiate between big tech firms mining data to help target their advertising from this kind of data, and those institutions that have a public service function, such as enabling better planning and policymaking and building a more inclusive digital future.
A necessary corollary to the impending explosion of available data in and on Africa and Africans is the issue of cybersecurity, the final leg in Koné’s tripod.
“As Africa becomes more digital, there’s a tremendous opportunity in the area of cybersecurity,” he emphasises.
Digitalisation, Koné argues, constitutes, in a sense, an extension of national borders and requires matching measures of security. According to him, while a lot of companies are keen to do business in Africa’s digital space, cybersecurity still leaves a lot to be desired. “Africa will need to do more and collaborate more with world leaders in the field of cybersecurity,” he urges.
Source: African Business.