January 15, 2021

Challenges and Responsibilities for the ICT Industry in Africa

The Better Africa Summit was held on November as part of AfricaCom 2020, the largest and most influential tech and telecoms event on the continent. At that Summit, which was themed “Working Together for Africa ICT Development and Economic Recovery”, the Secretary-General of the African Telecommunications Union John Omo provided a keynote speech entitled “The Challenges and Responsibilities for the ICT Industry Development in Africa.” This version is adapted for this blog.


Working Together for Africa ICT Development and Economic Recovery

In recent times, ICT has shared the spotlight with
the COVID-19 pandemic in very fundamental ways. While we didn’t hope for this
to be the case, I am excited that we have been able to underscore our position
as problem solvers. This is commendable though frankly speaking, our potential,
especially in Africa, is yet to be fully utilized.

Let me share a few perspectives that we at ATU regard as necessary in this struggle.

Digital technology is both a social and an economic
issue. At the very least, the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized this
understanding. The ICT industry is growing into a new global economic growth
engine. Without the power ICT wields, I am almost certain that we would have
fumbled with the pandemic and crumbled with its impact.

Even as the world appreciates this position, solving
the digital inequality gap, which, with COVID-19, is now quite apparent than
before, must find a place in our list of priorities. It must be our common goal
to enable those with connectivity, digital tools, and skills, and those without
access to the digital world, to meet at a central point. This must be done
without causing backward steps for those that are already ahead or lethargy to
those that are far behind. If we attain this, then we are staring at a world with
countless possibilities.

Amongst ourselves, I am sure we have walked the
path of building partnerships and alliances that present the potential to
achieve this goal. I concede that partnerships and alliances come with their challenges,
which we need to work around. But it still stands to reason that partnerships
between governments, between private sector players and also between
governments and the private sector are our chances of moving forward.

We need to initiate measures that set the pace for
investment in network deployment to close the digital gap. In this sense I am
guided by many aspirations which I am happy to share with you.

Foremost, is an enabling and friendly Policy and
Regulatory Environment. Such policies and regulation need to encourage investment
in network deployment and passive infrastructure sharing among operators.
Approaches like sharing of Public infrastructure such as street lights poles,
buildings, and ease of access to wayleaves and ducts need to be the norm to
avoid duplication and unnecessary costly investments. Equally, we need to avoid
bureaucratic red-tape by simplifying licensing and regulatory processes, for
example, the timely assignment of spectrum for new and evolving technologies
with strict adherence to industry protocols and coverage obligations; and also,
clear network quality requirements.

This is part of a long and complementary journey. The
complementary role of the fiscal and ICT authorities is important is ensuring service
affordability for all. We need to continuously review the impact of our fiscal
policies to ensure that ICT equipment and services are affordable. Measures
such as lowering import tax on telecom equipment and abolishing VAT and import
duties on smartphones would be one path leading to service affordability.

At the heart of ATU is a direction that I believe we can also hold onto to gain support for the goal we hope to achieve; this is on nurture ICT talents and skills. Governments need to equip our workforce with the latest ICT skills so that they can stay competitive amid a fast-expanding digital economy. This can be done through the initiation of a thorough and long-term strategic plan that inspires partnerships. We must ensure that more tertiary institutions provide courses of study on ICT, more ICT organizations providing internship, scholarships opportunities, and structured up-skilling for staff in ICT to meet new job skill requirements.

Finally, I look forward to institutionalized support for innovation. There is a great need for content and applications that meet local needs in agriculture, health, education, finance, and so on. At ATU, we recently concluded the inaugural ATU Africa Innovation Challenge 2020, which revealed the urgency of this need. There is great potential in Africa that must be tapped, cultivated, and disseminated. During this process, we recognized the importance of partnerships and were fortunate to have the support of Huawei as our main sponsor.

It
was indeed a great success with the winner emerging from North Africa, Mai
NAGY, 1st runner-up, Abdinoor YERROW from Kenya, and the 2nd
runners-up, Bequerelle MATEMTSAP MBOU from Cameroon.

From the many experiences we have had and will share during this event, collaboration amongst various stakeholders is the path we must take to develop Africa and reinforce ICT’s contribution to the well-being of our people.

About the Author

Jon Omo, Secretary-General of the African Telecommunications Union (ATU).

Mr. Omo leads the continental body entrusted with building consensus within African countries in the development of ICT policies, systems and services, and also in coordinating African participation in international ICT for Africa.

He has 29 years experience as a lawyer and has contributed immensely to the development of local and international policies, legislation, agreements and treaties in all areas of public service life but mainly in the area of ICTs.

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