If there is a job opportunity in Africa, it is in the ICT sector. This is because according to Ms. Sandra Uwera, the Chief Executive Officer of the COMESA Business Council (CBC), one of the reasons developing countries are not reaping the full benefits of ICT is due to lack of human capital, “If harnessed properly, ICTs can create significant economic opportunities. However the focus and benefits of ICT in developing countries remains relatively low, as most states do not have the business, policy, regulatory and investment framework and human capital necessary to promote ICT Development in Africa ”, she said.
Ms Sandra was speaking ahead of the first COMESA ICT Services Industries Public-Private Dialogue convened by CBC in partnership with Microsoft from 20th-21st April 2016 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi Kenya. CBC is a private sector institution of COMESA and represents private sector interests at the highest levels of decision making in the region. The CBC provides key market driven services to its membership, namely- business advocacy, business support services- linkages, partnerships and market intelligence, and lastly membership development – technical and productive capacity building.
The regional dialogue convened by CBC in partnership with Microsoft provides a platform for Public Private engagement on some of the pertinent ICT policy issues to ensure ICT Development in Africa. It also provides a platform for Public Private dialogue between the private sector and ICT regulators.
CBC recognises that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) services are an essential services sector. Competitiveness in the services and manufacturing industries is to a large extent tied to ICT, as a key enabler to productivity and trade. However, COMESA is a net exporter of communication services with total exports of US$ 2 billion. The growth and development of this sector varies across COMESA countries, with countries like Egypt, Seychelles, Kenya and Mauritius leading in terms of internet penetration and mobile density. According to the 2013 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) statistics, half of the population in Egypt and Seychelles and 39% of the population in both Kenya and Mauritius is using internet. While in Seychelles, Mauritius and Egypt, all inhabitants had at least 1 mobile cellular subscription.
Anchored on the theme, “It’s an ICT World: Access-Innovation-Policy for Business Competitiveness” the dialogue will enhance deliberations between the ICT services industry and ICT regulators to discuss and form Public-Private solutions as recommendations on influencing a flexible IT businesses environment in the region. It will also establish the CBC ICT Services Work group as part of the strategy for Regional Services Industry in COMESA.
Participants at the dialogue will come from leading ICT companies, startups, SMEs, mobile companies, ICT researchers, ICT industry federations and associations, research and innovation hubs and funding agencies, technology suppliers as well as the public sector responsible for ICT development. The panel sessions will focus on fundamental questions such as: Can ICT turn African businesses into global market players? Is Africa Ready for Cloud? What is the state of policy landscape around ICT? Additional topics will include ICT governance-establishing policies as a win-win for innovation, COMESA ICT policy frameworks and increasing intellectual protection for IT innovations.
Across the world, there has been sustained growth in the adoption of cloud-based services, both in the private sector as well as by governments. Entrepreneurs are also using the internet, and increasingly the cloud infrastructure to create new business models. This has led to significant trending innovations in the ICT sector such as; mobile technology and transmission media, mobile innovations systems and financial services (mobile money, E-government services, E-health services), market information systems, app development, cellular communications and internet based services.
Despite these innovations, there are several bottlenecks that need to be addressed to ensure ICT Development in Africa. They include: data protection, cyber-crime, increasing intellectual protection for IT innovations; establishing a multi-stakeholder model of internet governance, policies and initiatives aimed at promoting private sector investment and competition.
“Cloud computing will see immense growth when African countries have strong legislation in place to ensure data protection. Governments can only gain by prioritising this because cloud provides the most affordable and scalable way for businesses to be competitive,” says Louis Otieno, Director of Corporate and Legal affairs, Microsoft Africa Initiatives.
Key recommendations from the dialogue will be streamlined into an advocacy position for the Communications Services Work Group which shall be used for advocacy at various COMESA policy organs platform.