The future of businesses as Africa embraces technology

Dr Baryomunsi (R) listens to an official from Huawei Technologies during the AfricaCom Technology Conference at the Huawei Exhibition hall. The  conference took place in Cape Town, South Africa last month. Photo / Allan Chekwech 

What you need to know:

  • It is no doubt that technology now drives the world. Africa had all along played catch-up until Covid-19 made adaptation to technology an urgent need

The early November sun brought to the fore Cape Town’s beautiful ancient cliff faces with unique contours across the escarpment. 

The grass punctuating the dark rocks was drying, signalling the start of summer. At the heart of the city was a conference shaping Africa’s next digital journey and perhaps how the continent would take care of emerging technological needs.

Between November 7 and 14, the world descended on Cape Town, South Africa, for this year’s edition of the AfricaCom Technology Conference.

A broadband conference here, and an Artificial Intelligence demo there; from showcasing the latest digital and telecom infrastructure to discussing the future of work, this year’s conference was up to every byte on the money.

The annual event, last held in 2019 because of the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, centred on the use of technology in homes, offices, and businesses. It has been in this business for 25 years now.

Domiciled at the Cape Town International Conference Centre building in the middle of the beautiful town, the tech event sprung to life on Monday, November 7 with pockets of conferences and presentations in auditoriums.

It covered everything from connectivity, Fintech, AI, green ICT, digital infrastructure investment, cloud services, data centres, among others. 

It also focused on connecting Africa’s next billion, digital infrastructure investment, telecoms of tomorrow, future visions; Web3, the Metaverse and beyond, and regional spotlights.

But first, what exactly is it? AfricaCom - its official records indicate - is the meeting place of Africa’s largest community of tech champions. 

“It is the largest live tech event in Africa with visionary speakers and premium conference tracks … exploring the hottest connectivity and enterprise tech trends. It connects business leaders, tech experts, policymakers, and investors, all at the forefront of Africa’s digital transformation.”

The initiative seeks to understand the African digital landscape and offer a comprehensive understanding of the region’s communications networking and ICT sector in general.

Mr James Williams, the director of Connecting Africa at InformaTech, says a connected continent can bring several opportunities to its citizens and the globe in general. Perhaps, the segment more relevant to most of Africa, and Uganda in particular, was the one on talent, skills and the future of work in the face of changing technology. 

How SMMEs can prosper

Key was the focus on how Africa’s small to medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), which makes up more than half of the continent’s formal workforce, will embrace technology in the coming years.

The session “Surviving talent shortage in a changing world’’ and that on “The future workforce - learning and development in the 4th Industrial Revolution” painted a clear picture of what we need to harness in the face of technology. 

Mr Habiba Ben Barka, the chief of Africa Section, Division for Africa of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, in the run-up to the session told Teletimes that empowering SMMEs with access to financial services and technology-enabling services was key in boosting their fortunes and value addition.

“The African private sector (especially SMMEs) are potential new actors that can enhance the complexity and sophistication of production and business processes in Africa and influence a paradigm shift in trade expansion and economic diversification on the continent,” he said. 

The panel stressed that businesses need to understand the future operational needs such as data centres, cloud services and necessary cyber security if they are to remain relevant. 

And with the ever changing technological needs, the session underpinned the need for businesses to look for human capital with relevant skills and if need be, retrain and retool personnel.

Also significant was Africa’s start-up session, where panellists demonstrated how start-ups across the continent could leverage on technology to improve their revenues and profitability.

Uganda’s case

In an interview on the side-lines of the broadband conference, ICT Minister Chris Baryomunsi, told Monitor that because 78 percent of Ugandans are young people below 30 years, government was keen on helping them transform their fortunes.

Covid-19, he said, underlined the importance of technology and as a government they wouldn’t love to look back.

“Up to 60 percent of the country is covered by backbone infrastructure and we really thank our partners such as Huawei Technologies for this. We need to do the last mile. The demand for connectivity became real during the pandemic as we announced lockdowns. There was demand that government enables learners to continue learning, among others,” he said.

In what should address the immediate problem of unemployment facing at least 80 percent of the youth leaving university, Dr Baryomunsi had an idea.

“We face a high level of unemployment. We have a lot of education. But the challenge is creating jobs. How do we use ICT to create opportunities? Can we create jobs outside Uganda and get employed when they are physically in Uganda? We are drafting policies and laws and working with other stakeholders to ensure that Ugandans don’t have to leave the country to do jobs in other parts of the world,” he said.

Asked to explain why a government that has shut down Facebook since January last year and continues to censor social media hopes youth can thrive through technology, Dr Baryomunsi said: “We cannot wish social media away. It has made youth active, but also created citizen journalism. This has been a challenge. Like during the pandemic there was misinformation. We need a balance between freedom of expression and regulation. Social media should be non-partisan.”

As the conference closed shop, it was written all over the sky that the future of work and business is technology, and it is pertinent for governments and businesses across the continent to embrace it and reskill personnel or perish.

Deepening connectivity 

The InformaTech 2022 State of Connectivity in Africa report, indicates that Africa has the lowest number of internet connections (most of them mobile) at only 39.9 percent.

But during the opening session, Mr Leo Chen, the president of Huawei sub-Saharan Africa, said over the last two decades, Africa has made significant progress in digitalisation through the first-mile infrastructure, connecting countries on the continent to the global internet.

“We need to deepen connectivity to ...  unleash digital productivity and enable digital transformation in multiple industries; increase the ICT industry’s energy-efficiency and leverage ICT technologies to reduce emissions,” he said.

Mr Liu Dechang, who showcased smart mining, said with the advancement of technology, they had introduced unmanned mining, which would lead to less human injuries as machines are managed remotely using 5G technology. 

He also said it would increase productivity by more than 40 percent, while being cost effective.

Mr Alvin Kokkie, a telecom specialist, said Africa should now focus on reducing the cost of communication, which in the long run reduces the cost of doing business. 

Key exhibitors included Ericsson, Bosch, InformaTech, Red Hat, Clickatell, Intel, Tramigo, Vodacom, Microsoft, Tecnotree, Upstream, Huawei Technologies, Truphone, Paxful, and Sentech.