South Africa can be a technology leader

The country – and the rest of the continent – has the potential to be a disruptor, by using ICT and the size of the African market. To do so, it needs to be innovative and produce its own technology.

ICT has the potential to build Africa’s innovation economy. (Image: ITU)

Sulaiman Philip

Over the next 20 years the working population of Africa will increase to more than a billion. By 2025, Africa’s internet related services economy could be worth be worth $315-billion (R4.3-trillion) and be a major employer of Africa’s young population if the continent worked to create the technology rather than simply was a passive user.

For this reason South Africa again attended the annual ITU (International Telecomunications Union) Telecom World convention in Busan, South Korea. Governments and industry players attend the event, which showcases innovations and best practice. The sector, in the words of Telecommunications Minister Siyabonga Cwele, allowed the world to connect.

“That is why it is so vitally important for us to come together at an event like this to discuss how we can innovate, disrupt and transform our industry to better serve an increasingly digital African population while still protecting our most vulnerable.”

While the ITU Telecom World is an industry initiative, there is a strong focus on soci-economic development using information and communications technology. Among the sessions that attracted large audiences were Internet for all: financing models for ICT connectivity infrastructure, and AI in smart cities: power, potential, ethics and education.

ITU (International Telecomunications Union) Telecom World convention was a place for the world to connect. (Image: ITU)

The former, organised by the World Economic Forum, covered challenges faced by governments, civil society and business in financing ICT infrastructure projects. This session held special interest for South African officials who are in the middle of the country’s Internet For All rollout. Officals could agree with the assertion that funding for “last mile connections”, which often showed no profitability but guaranteed universal connectivity, remained the most important challenge.

Cwele said that the fast-developing ICT sector presented South Africa, and Africa, with an opportunity to leapfrog developed economies and design the technology and set the standards that best work for the continent.

The size of the African market could, if leveraged properly, change the sector into one that put African needs ahead of other economies. This could be hastened if Africa produced its own technology and took it to other parts of the world.

In making this happen, Africa faced one major challenge: a shortage of skills. The minister has said that building a skilled workforce, including re-skilling employees, was an important project for the government. A sustainable future would be built on research, technological development and the adoption of digital tools.

“ICTs have the power to help reduce borders and to help enable business and human interaction from anywhere to everywhere. By engaging in the digital economy we can show the rest of the world the wealth of knowledge and innovation in South Africa.”

The ICT sector has the power to help remove borders. (Image: ITU)

Emerging markets

This year’s convention had a strong focus on emerging markets and the vibrant technology sectors that existed in countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Azerbijan and the Republic of Korea. Houlin Zhao, ITU secretary-general, said it offered governments and industry leaders the best environment to discuss challenges and explore the potential benefits of telecom technologies. “Smart technology is the future, interconnecting all industry sectors and societies, changing how we live, work and do business, and it’s a future brimming with potential.”

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