By JAPHET NCUBE
AFRICACOM, the annual pilgrimage of tech minds, kicked off in Cape Town this week with a number of agenda-setting activities alongside the continent’s biggest gathering of tech leaders and exhibitors.
The digital transformation agenda, was in the spotlight at one of the key gatherings, the Ministerial Forum on Building A Future-Oriented, Intelligent Digital Infrastructure for Africa, held at the majestic One & Only Hotel.
The forum was powered by ICT giant Huawei and co-organised by South Africa’s Department of Communications and Digital Technologies and the African Telecommunications Union (ATU).
Ministers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Tanzania, joined by Huawei Sub-Saharan Africa President Leo Chen and ATU secretary General John Omo, discussed why digital transformation was essential for achieving Africa to achieve socio-economic development goals and to bridge the connectivity gap.
Present were Thulagano Merafe Segokgo, Minister of Communications, Knowledge and Technology (Botswana); Dr. Tatenda Mavetera, Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services (Zimbabwe); Nape Moses Nnauye, Minister for Information, Communication and Information Technology (Tanzania); and Philly Mapulane, Deputy Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (South Africa).
Collaboration became the key word at the gathering, with speakers agreeing that working together, rather than competing, was key in helping Africa leap forward into an inclusive digital future.
At the end of the forum was the signing of a joint communique underlining the importance of collaboration between all stakeholders in building a future-oriented digital infrastructure for Africa.
The communique committed countries present to “collaborate and align our policies and strategies to promote the development of digital infrastructure in Africa, in line with the African Union Agenda 2063, the ATU Strategic Plan 2020-2024, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals” among others.
In addition, the South African Fibre Broadband Development Initiative, a partnership between the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), the Digital Council Africa (DCA) and Africa Analysis, unveiled its position paper titled “Toward a Gigabit Society in South Africa”.
The paper analyses “the positive impact that increased fixed broadband adoption will have in the country from a social and economic perspective”.
It outlines the current status and challenges, and proposes recommendations on strategy and policy interventions to turn South Africa into a gigabit society.
Concerned that Africa lags behind in the construction of high-speed networks (4G, 5G and fibre), the implementation of high-performance cloud computing capabilities and other essential digital technologies, governments and private sector players such as Huawei are working together to plug the gap and boost the continent’s digital economy.
John Omo, Secretary General of the African Telecommunications Union.
Said Omo: “In the space in which this forum operates, we have the ability to create consensus on which way to go in building future-oriented digital infrastructure for Africa.
“We know the place of digital infrastructure in the global arithmetic that defines the compass of progress. We also know that to find our bearing on this compass, we must be deliberate about the actions we take to protect the future of Africa.”
He added: “I must note that it is also through the synergy of governments, private sector entities, research institutions, and international organisations that we can realise the full potential of our collective efforts,.
“What this means is that inclusivity should be a guiding principle as we shape the future of digital infrastructure. We must ensure that the benefits of technological advancements reach every corner of society, leaving no one behind.”
Philly Mapulane, SA’s Deputy Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies.
Mapulane concurred: “This gathering marks a significant milestone in our collective pursuit of a digitally empowered Africa.
“We are here not merely as representatives of our respective nations and organisations, but we are here as architects of a shared vision — one that envisions an Africa propelled into a future where the possibilities of connectivity are boundless.
“Today, we are not just building a digital infrastructure; we are laying the foundation for the socio-economic emancipation of our continent.
“Let us envision a future where our digital infrastructure is seamless, intelligent, and accessible to all.”
Huawei Sub-Saharan Africa President Leo Chen.
Chen said Africa has made some great strides building the digital infrastructure, but there was need for it needs improvement in many areas. He added that the One Network, One Cloud approach advocated by Huawei would help improve Africa’s position.
“To build One Network, countries should continue to build national broadband backbone networks to serve as the arteries of national network connectivity.
“In addition, such backbone networks should be extensible across multiple domains.
Added Chen: “This means they should be able to connect to different metropolitan area networks and campus networks.
“Similar to a highly-developed neural network, they will connect the last mile of connectivity to meet the needs of different scenarios.”
He said the benefits of such a network include increased GDPs for countries across the region, enhanced government service delivery, and improved connectivity for individual households.
Chen added that due to the coverage gap, “it is still important to cover more people through wireless connectivity technologies, such as 4G and 5G, and through rural connectivity solutions, such as Huawei’s RuralStar.”
“The national cloud platform can serve as the foundation for a country’s advanced technological innovation, and can greatly improve the capabilities of governments and enterprises to adopt new technologies,” said Chen.
He added: “With the national cloud platform and cloud infrastructure, African countries can also unlock huge potential in the ‘e-government’ cloud,.
“One example from China can represent a future trend. In Shenzhen, where Huawei is headquartered, citizens can complete almost all of the government service items with at most one visit to the service office, or without even making a physical visit at all.”
“To implement One Network, One Cloud and ensure its steady progress, the governments of all countries should provide strategic guidance and support through specific policies,” Chen emphasized.
Added Chen: “As we continue our digital transformation journeys, it is important that we share our collective wisdom, vision, and resolve.
“Thus, it is very important that we share different experiences and best practices across the continent when building the ‘One Network and One Cloud’.”
Segokgo echoed the importance of collaboration. “It’s key that we work collaboratively to ensure that connection costs don’t become a barrier to connectivity for our citizens.
“If we are going to achieve connectivity at the level our citizenries deserve, we must work together.”
Nnauye agreed: “Collaborating is an important aspect if we want to achieve our goals. Let’s see how we can work together and face the challenges together.”
Mavetera also concurred. “We need greater collaboration,” she said, adding that this collaboration should extend beyond digital infrastructure and include things like skills transfer and policy formulation.
AfricaCom, the continent’s premier ICT conference and exhibition and takes place at the Cape Town International Convention Center around thus time every year and draws global experts and participants.
It runs fro 13- 16 November.
Joint Communique of the Ministerial Forum on Building a Future-Oriented, Digital Infrastructure for Africa
[Issued On 13 November 2023] On 13th of November 2023, We, the Ministers of Communications and Digital Technologies and the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) member states, convened in Cape Town, South Africa, on 13th November 2023, for the Ministerial Forum on Building a Future-Oriented, Digital Infrastructure for Africa. The Forum was co-organized by the ATU and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) of South Africa, with the aim of advancing the digital transformation agenda in Africa.
The Forum was a high-level event that brought together over 100 participants, including Ministers, government officials, industry leaders, and experts. The Forum provided a platform for dialogue and exchange of views on the development of a future-oriented digital infrastructure in Africa, which is essential for achieving the socio-economic development goals of the continent.
- Key Themes
The Forum focused on the following key themes:
- Future Oriented Digital Infrastructure for Africa: The forum discussed how digital infrastructure can drive economic growth and digital transformation across Africa, and what innovative technologies, such as Cloud data Centers, Computing, Big data analytics, and Connectivity solutions, can be leveraged to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of digital infrastructure. The forum also explored how digital infrastructure can enable new business models, foster innovation and entrepreneurship, and create new opportunities for employment and income generation.
- Sharing of Strategies and best Practices in Key Countries/Carriers: The forum showcased how countries and carriers that have successfully deployed Network and Cloud for Digital transformation have achieved their goals, and what lessons can be learned from their success stories and best practices. The forum highlighted the experiences and achievements of countries, as well as carriers.
- ICT Talent Development Practice: The forum examined how ICT talent development initiatives and programs can help nurture a skilled workforce for the digital era. The forum agrees that investing in human capital and building a strong ICT talent pipeline is crucial to support the development and maintenance of future oriented digital infrastructure. The Forum also highlighted some of the best practices and successful stories of ICT talent development programs in Africa.
The forum consisted of keynote speeches by eminent speakers such as H.E. Mr. John E. Omo, Secretary-General of ATU; Ministers/deputy Minister from South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe:
Hon. Philly Mapulane: Deputy Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies of the republic of South Africa
Hon. Thulagano Segokgo: Minister of Communications, Knowledge and Technology of the republic of Botswana
Hon. Nape Moses Nnauye: Minister of Information, Communication and Information Technology of the United Republic of Tanzania
Hon. Dr.Tatenda Mavetera, Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, of the Republic of Zimbabwe
The forum also featured panel discussions by experts from various fields such as academia, research institutions, industry associations, and civil society organizations. The panel discussions facilitated interactive sessions that provided participants with an opportunity to share their views, experiences, and insights on the above-mentioned themes.
The Forum also facilitated networking and collaboration among key stakeholders and decision-makers to develop a unified approach towards digital infrastructure development in Africa.
At the end of the Forum, we:
- recognized the importance and benefits of a future-oriented digital infrastructure such as Network and Cloud in Africa for enhancing social welfare, economic competitiveness, regional integration, and sustainable development. We acknowledge that future-oriented digital infrastructure is not only a means to an end but also an end in itself, as it can improve the quality of life and well-being of the people of Africa.
- committed to collaborate and align our policies and strategies to promote the development of future-oriented digital infrastructure in Africa, in line with the African Union Agenda 2063, the ATU Strategic Plan 2020-2024, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
- pledged to create an enabling environment for future-oriented digital infrastructure development, including through fostering a conducive regulatory framework and mobilizing adequate resources.
- appreciated the support and partnership of various stakeholders who have contributed to the development of digital infrastructure in Africa through their innovative technologies, quality products, customer-oriented services, and social responsibility initiatives.
- commended the efforts and achievements of the ATU and the DCDT of South Africa for organizing this Forum and providing a platform for dialogue and cooperation. We also express our gratitude to the sponsors and partners of the Forum for their generous support and collaboration.
- endorsed ICT talent development programs as a valuable platform for enhancing the skills and competencies of our human resources for the digital era, and encourage more participation from our countries in these programs. We recognize that ICT talent development is not only a matter of supply and demand but also a matter of quality and relevance. We therefore commit to ensure that our ICT talent development programs are aligned with the current and future needs of the digital economy and society.
- called upon other stakeholders, including international organizations, development partners, private sector actors, civil society organizations, academia, and research institutions, to join us in our efforts to build a future-oriented digital infrastructure in Africa. We invite them to share their expertise, experience, and resources with us, and to collaborate with us on various aspects of digital infrastructure development, such as policy formulation, project implementation, capacity building, monitoring and evaluation, and knowledge sharing.
We express our sincere gratitude to the Government and people of South Africa for their warm hospitality and excellent arrangements for the Forum. We also commend the efforts of the African Telecommunications Union in organizing the Forum. We also thank all the participants for their active engagement and constructive contributions to the Forum.
We look forward to continuing our dialogue and cooperation on building a future-oriented digital infrastructure for Africa.
Done in Cape Town, South Africa, on 13th November 2023.