During the current crisis of COVID-19 pandemic, some sectors like health and Information & Communications Technology (ICT) are experiencing unprecedented demand.
According to ICT experts, this crisis heightened the need for African countries to increase their investments in ICT infrastructure, policies and solutions and to accelerate their efforts in tapping into the new possibilities unlocked by digitalization.
Jean-Paul Adam, Director of Climate Change, Natural Resource Management and Technology at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) told the participants at a webinar that while COVID-19 disrupted our normal way of doing things, it has also brought some opportunities.
Adam was speaking in a webinar that discussed how to unlock Africa’s digital potential amid COVID-19 organised and hosted by ECA on 26 May 20202.
He stressed that African countries should address all vulnerabilities that are hampering digital transformation such as the high cost of internet and issues related to inadequate bandwidth.
Hossam Elgamal the Chairman African ICT Alliance who also spoke at the webinar stressed the need to put policies that would govern digital transformation, and help ensure that the full potential of digital technologies is realized by governments, private sector and other stakeholders while mitigating the associated risks and addressing the challenges of data security.
About 150 people attended the webinar and underlined how sectors like commerce and health have been transformed by information and digital technologies in ways previously unimaginable.
Lacina Kone, CEO Smart Africa Alliance reminded the participants that Africa is being digitally transformed. “Technologies like mobile-phone-enabled solutions are expanding access to financial services to many people who are now transacting money in digital form without the need of a bank account”, he said.
Kone also stressed how young people on the continent are now innovating and utilising technologies in ways that could have a positive impact on their lives.
In this regards, Chepkemoi Magdaine, a young person from Kenya, founder of EldoHub, a tech innovation and entrepreneurship centre, confirmed that there are indeed many opportunities for the youth skilled in ICT.
The issue of regulation of data, broadband and connectivity as well as the need for a better collaboration were also discussed at the e-meeting. Kojo Boakye, Head, Public Policy at Africa Facebook told the participants about the project of his company and its partners to roll out a cable that will increase the connectivity on the continent and give access to many data services.
Arguing in the favor of data control, Olusegun Olugbile President of Global Network for Cybersolution urged governments to develop an African Data Governance Framework where all ICT stakeholders would agree to take control of their future through securing their data, and avoiding “data colonisation” and be able to negotiate better deals and create jobs badly needed.
Most of the participants agreed that the unprecedented change brought about by digital technology offers significant opportunities for Africa as well as complex challenges that require new policy responses in many areas.
ECA, through rigorous analytical and policy research, has been scaling up assistance to member States in their efforts to adopt evidence-based ICT, science, technology and innovation policies to transform their economies.