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This session was organised by the African Civil Society on the Information Society (ACSIS) and was moderated by Dr Cisse Kane, president of ACSIS. The session looked at the rapid evolution of digital transformation in the world, and the readiness for this of Africa as a continent.
Kane set the scene by outlining the situation in Africa with regards to digital transformation, asking: ‘How is Africa doing? Is Africa ready?’ and, ‘What can we do to make sure the global digital transformation benefits Africa as well?’ He then opened the session to the panellists.
Mr Pape Gorgui Touré, director general, TAKTICOM, Senegal, painted two pictures of Africa, which he said should not be considered as a whole or as a block. He spoke about challenges such as access to basic education. It is an important asset to be able to access information and this is improving, as countries are working hard at education. Touré also talked about the bright face of Africa in areas such mobile banking, which is now widespread in many African countries. This includes the city of Dakar in Senegal, where he has witnessed how young people are now using their mobile phones to purchase goods. He concluded by sharing his optimism that Africa is not unprepared, because it has people with knowledge and passion who are driving innovation, despite all the existing challenges.
Mr Mactar Seck, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), started by explaining that digital transformation is moving from traditional ways of communicating, to communicating using applications on the Internet. Africa has to embrace the 4th industrial revolution not as a simple consumer, but as an active participant. One of the reasons is because 70% of the African population is below 30 years old, so this transformation should be carried by young people. Seck gave examples of innovations such as e-commerce platforms, mobile banking (such as M-Pesa which started in Kenya), and Internet of Things applications used in Egypt. On the other hand, this use of technology does not have an economic impact on the lives of the wider population because not everyone has access to it. The main reason is that Internet access is still very expensive in Africa due to lack of infrastructure and limited energy supplies. He concluded by pointing out the need for governments to support innovation projects driven by young people, such as startups, innovation hubs, and for banks to make it easy to access loans.
Mr Louis Pouzin, director, Open-root, France, said his first encounter with Africa was during the WSIS preparatory process in 2002 where he noted that country representatives and other participants did not know much about the Internet. Now, Pouzin confessed, he has seen many young engineers trained and able to discuss technical aspects of the Internet at a high level. The issue is that these qualified engineers do not have jobs in their own countries and so are tending to move outside to look for jobs. The other problem in Africa is the inability to create and sustain companies that will make sure these engineers have jobs, and use their knowledge to benefit the country. This will take time, Pouzin recognised, because it requires legal frameworks to be in place.
Mr Desmond Boateng, director, PPME, Ghana, outlined some projects that his government is undertaking in the area of digital transformation, expressing the hope that these will help inspire other countries:
The port system is now digitalised, enabling the shipping and receiving of goods to take place more quickly.
The e-immigration system will facilitate the entry and exit of people to and from the country, and also provide online services for passports, visas, etc.
The e-justice initiative aims to make the justice system in Ghana easier to use, with all cases digitalised to ensure access, and referencing to cases made easier.
Boateng noted that there is a need for capacity building for people to better use these innovations, and to ensure accessibility and usability. He concluded by saying that Africa has to move very fast into the digital transformation: countries have to look into their policies, and harmonise them, making sure they are in line with global developments.
By Arsene Tungali