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Lack of ICT skills affected Africa’s response to Covid-19 – ATU Boss

Covid-19 pandemic

PHILIP CLEMENT, ABUJA

Africa’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was greatly hindered by the shortage of digital skills across its countries, Mr. John Omo, Secretary-General of the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) has said.

Mr. Omo stated this the Digital Africa Summit hosted by Huawei Technologies which took place during AfricaCom 2021. He pointed out COVID-19 illustrated how wide the skills gap is in Africa.

“It was not just the lack of access to technology, that led to African economies falling behind during the pandemic, but also the lack of skills,” he said. “This situation provoked the realisation that as much as we must increase coverage, we must address the skills among youth”

Africacom has for over 24 years being the largest connecting point for business leaders, tech experts, policymakers, and investors at the forefront of Africa’s digital transformation.

Speakers at the event engaged on Africa’s digital transformation, the strides made during the Covid 19 pandemic and the path still ahead, agreeing broadly that while Africa has come far in the past 18 months in its digital transformation, there is still much potential to fully embrace digital transformation and equip the continent’s youth with the skills they need to thrive in a digital economy.

According to Yang Chen, VP, Huawei Southern Africa, the digital economy already accounts for more than five percent of GDP in some African countries and that number could be more than doubled in countries that take a committed approach to digital transformation.

Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest ICT contribution to the GDP on the continent. Recently, the minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami disclosed that the ICT sector contributed 17.9% to the Nigerian economy in second quarter of 2021.

According to Chen Hui, Deputy Director of Industry and Planning Research Institute CAICT, the overall digital economy accounts for 38.6% of China’s GDP and employs more than 200-million people.

“Digitalisation spurs the development of new industries such as ecommerce and eGovernment,” he said. “It also disrupts existing industries to ensure lower costs and higher productivity and can empower emerging technologies like renewable energy. Digital technologies also increase economic resilience against shocks like COVID-19.

“Achieving this transformation, however, means going beyond simply adapting and evolving new technologies to old ways of doing things. It requires a full commitment to a ground-up transformation without delay. When it comes to seeing the benefits of taking this fully committed approach to digital transformation, African leaders can look to examples from their own continent as well as further abroad,” Chen added.

“Digital transformation cannot happen unless barriers to growth are reduced or completely removed. Investment in infrastructure is also key to a digitally transformed economy,” he said.

Decision-makers, particularly in government are key to removing these barriers who often worry about the risk of putting their energy behind any one specific technology.

That was backed up by a speaker at the event, Joe Mucheru, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications.

“Last year, when COVID-19 hit, the ICT sector was one of the few to grow exponentially,” he said.
But in order for that resilience and the wider opportunities of digital transformation to be realised, the right kind of environment needs to be created.

Some African countries with the most advanced digital transformation programmes are Botswana and Kenya.

“Botswana has developed a digital transformation strategy called SmartBots to deliver government services,” said Thulaganyo Merafe Segokgo , Botswana’s Minister of Transport and Communications.

“Implementations of these programmes continue to help Botswana develop into a knowledge-based economy.”
The aim, he said, is to put all government services online within the next three years.

“There is the opportunity for accelerated growth with the right investments,” he added, pointing out that partnerships with private companies such as Huawei are crucial to achieving it.

According to Mucheru, Kenya intends to keep its “momentum going and speed up the development of the digital economy.”

“We believe we can address the critical issues needed to enable a digital economy,” he added. “The government strongly believes in partnership with the private sector, including Huawei. Going forward, we will be focusing more on driving innovation at the grassroots level.”

“Every economy around the world is looking for the skills to build the digital world,” Chen concluded, adding that Africa can benefit from that. “By cultivating inclusion, we cultivate the ability to strive and progress.”

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