From left to right: Ryan Zhao, CTO of ME & Africa Region Huawei Data Communication Product Line, Anderson Amlamba, Director of Africa Union Management Information System, John OMO, Secretary-General of African Telecommunications Union, Gary Lu, President of Huawei CNBG Network Marketing & Solution Sales Department.

By JAPHET NCUBE in Cape Town

THE 25th edition of Africa Tech Festival was a huge success, coming as it did this year after a two-year absence caused by the Covid pandemic and the global shutdown.

Held in Cape Town, the epicentre of African tech innovation, the festival drew over 10 000 attendees and boasted several key panels and buzzing exhibition floors showcasing the latest tech innovations at the Cape Town Interational Convention Centre.

It started on Monday and ends on Thursday with a clear message: Africa needs to up its tech game if the continent is to move with the rest of the world into the fully connected future.

Among key topics were how Africa is building blocks for the 4th Industrial Revolution; why the continent’s adoption of 5G has been lagging behind; defeating cyber crime to win the race for fintech leadership; leveraging the 4IR to drive Africa’s global competitiveness; affordable internet access for all; data driven reinvention and the future of content streaming in Africa.

With presentations from key leaders such as the African Telecommunications Union secretary general John Omo and Informa Tech director James Williams, who opened the event,  digital transformation took centre stage during the festival, with speaker after speaker emphasizing how the continent should embrace it to connect its 1.3 billion citizens. 

The festival has two anchor events- AfricaCom and Africa Tech- and brings together some of the continent’s most brilliant tech minds, who bring data on how much Africa is faring in the digital economy space, and what needs to be done to push our leap into a fully connected future.

Said  James Williams: “During these 25 years, the event has evolved to ensure we remain the continent’s largest and most influential tech event and to tell the story of continued growth and frontier technologies, and how African innovation is tackling some of the globe’s biggest challenges.

“AfricaCom and AfricaTech came together as a festival in 2018 and continue to explore connectivity, infrastructure, and telco evolution.

“And with this evolution to a festival, we’ve also worked this year, more than any other, to integrate some of the stories around culture, sport, music, and entertainment that make the continent such a diverse and unique place to work.”

Omo, unpacking the Africa IPv6 Development White Paper during a media roundtable hosted by Huawei, said IPv6, the newest protocol for the internet, was critical for the digital economy and that governments must lead in its implementation.

The African Telecommunications Union (ATU), African Union (AU) and Huawei jointly released the “Africa IPv6 Development White Paper” on Monday.

This first regional Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) white paper on the African continent systematically analyses the development of IPv6 in Africa and shares the IPv6 innovation practices of several top operators in Africa.

Africa was lagging behind, said Omo, and added that IPv4 was exhausted, meaning it had no more capacity to carry addresses. Yet most African countries were not ready for IPv6 uptake, with just 5% embracing it.

Africa’s digital future will rely on faster uptake of IPv6. Most African countries were simply unaware of it, or it was not a priority for them.

Tech giant Huawei continued its commitment to help Africa’s digitalization, with Leo Chen, president of the southern Africa region, unpacking digital transformation: digital infrastructure, digital services, and digital skills. 

 “If we do these three things well, we can connect the unconnected people and businesses, fully unleash digital productivity and develop the digital economy, no matter what its definition is,” said Chen.

Chen added that the digital economy in sub-Saharan Africa was growing faster than the region’s GDP, although only 40% of Africans had access to the Internet.

At least 60% of Africans use mobile phones, and the digitalization of the economy would help more Africans get connected. 

But Africa is on the right track, albeit slower. 

Said Russel Southwood of Balancing Act: “Fantastic things have happened to Africa because of the investment in technology over the last 35 years. We now have networks, we now understand what needs to be done.

” And the next, however many 20 or 30, 40 or 50 years is going to be really interesting, because when they write a new history of Africa, when it’s completely changed, and very different, they will say it started here.” 

One of the highlights was the European Investment Bank concluding a $10 million agreement with Bandwidth and Cloud Services Group (BCS) for the roll out of eastern DRC telecom connectivity. 

“The deal is the first EIB Global quasi-equity investment and will back expansion of fibre-optic network to 2.5 million people, as well as provide high-speed connectivity to 319 schools and 70 hospitals. This will fund 1250km of fibre infrastructure out of the 20 000kms BCS is looking to build over the next three years in Eastern, Southern, and central Africa,” said a statement.

Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, who showed how investing in tech had boosted the city’s position as an investment destination for technology.  

“Digital transformation in our government not only leads to new opportunities for economic growth and job creation, but also improves the functioning of government to the benefit of all of our residents,” said Hill-Lewis.

Also interesting was Ericsson’s Fadi Pharaon telling delegates sub-Saharan Africa had seen a whopping 26% increase in 4G uptake.

 Pharaon also revealed that 4G devices had also icreased rapidly, surpassing the number of 3G devices as a result of  lower prices of entry level mobile models and the growing market for refurbished smartphones. 

 “Another enabler which will accelerate 4G adoption are regulatory initiatives to make more spectrum available for key markets. Now we all know that this is the foundation of the telecoms industry,” said Pharaon.

Tomiwa Aladekomo, Tech Cabal Media, and Chair of the AHUB Start-up stage, noted: “Start-ups have provided some of the most important economic growth, foreign direct investment, and job opportunities across the continent over the last few years. 

“Today, there is a global recession that is challenging some of the fastest growing tech companies globally and that challenge is also affecting the capital available for African start-ups to grow. It’s a challenging period, but start-ups will remain a critical growth engine.”

Speaking to the need for every user in Africa to have the power of computing in their hands, Mariam Abdullahi, Director, Android Partnerships, Africa at Google, said: “It is not a matter of just giving the power of computing to everyone.  You’ve got to give them secure, reliable, delightful services to use in the most affordable way.”

The festival also heard from Pfiona Okumu, Head of Music sub-Saharan Africa at music streaming site Spotify, who spoke on digital entertainment and how Spotify has at least 10,000 songs uploaded every day. 

“It’s almost perfect democratization of the arts, which is essential as there’s so much talent out there,” said Okumu.

 Added Okumu: “We are very proactive with our programming to make sure women artists are represented. So we over-index to make sure that happens, so if you listen to women artists frequently, the more you listen to female artists, the more they will be served to you. 

“So you get to discover even more. That’s one of the ways we can use tech to actively push listening habits to make sure that they’re inclusive. Let’s just make sure that marginalized creators have an equal shake at the stick.” – Zambezi News