Hani Raad, the Managing Director for Sub-Saharan Africa at Cisco talks about Dedication, innovation, and education: The recipe for Africa’s digital prosperity.
Africa has come a long way in terms of digital innovation and adoption. These developments will continue shape the continent’s journey towards achieving an inclusive, sustainable future for itself and its citizens. That journey is made possible through investing in solutions and knowledge that support them in order to fuel a multi-national digital economy and foster new socioeconomic opportunities.
Through the combined efforts of governments, citizens, and public and private stakeholders, Africans are embracing a digital-first world. By focusing on key areas such as innovation and education, and propelled by a population that’s young and enthusiastic, Africa could be a leading light for the rest of the world.
A wired workforce
From a connectivity standpoint, Africa has enjoyed immense growth in its number of internet users (570 million in 2022, more than double the number in 2015). The Cisco Global Broadband Survey 2023 shows that 78% of South African respondents view broadband as critical national infrastructure.
In terms of devices, mobile connectivity in particular plays a critical role in Africa’s digital transformation. According to the GSMA Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Economy report for 2022, by 2025, the continent will be home to 613 million unique mobile subscribers (50% of the population) and boast 41 million 5G connections. The above-mentioned Cisco survey also found that almost two thirds of South African respondents use some kind of mobile technology to connect to the internet from home. Additionally, mobile technologies and services are set to contribute $154 billion in economic value to Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.
But it’s not just about how many people are using mobile phones. In 2022, 23 million people entered the Sub-Saharan African workforce. This is expected to increase to 27 million by 2030 and 28.5 million by 2033, exceeding the number for the rest of the world combined (28 million). Furthermore, Africa exhibits high levels of perceived and actual social mobility, with the typical way to get ahead being through hard work.Hani Raad, Managing Director for Sub-Saharan Africa Cisco
Innovation and entrepreneurship
Africa boasts a growing population that’s eager to work, but they need connectivity to make the most of a growing digital economy. Case in point, The Cisco Global Broadband Survey 2023 shows that 87% of South African respondents rely on their home internet connection to work or run a business.
Supporting this population with entrepreneurial efforts and creating technologies that are applicable and appropriate for the local context is critical to harnessing its potential. Tech made by Africans for Africans should be a priority, and we see that in the continent’s blooming start-up sector. Despite a global downturn in investments, especially in venture capital, 633 startups in Africa raised a combined $3.3 billion in 2022, with the number of funded start-ups increasing by 564 (12.2%) between 2021 and 2022.
Kenya, dubbed the “Silicon Savanah” of Africa, hosts a start-up scene supported by initiatives to expand the country’s ICT infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities. This includes rolling out 100,000 kilometres of fibre optic cables to some of Kenya’s most remote counties, and plans to build cheap smartphones locally. And then you have the start-ups themselves.
Take agriculture for instance; it’s one of Africa’s most critical sectors (and indeed the world’s), and one that’s “ripe” for digital transformation. The sector is being transformed by the likes of One Acre Fund and the Tupande farming app. Launched with the help of a Cisco grant, the Tupande app lets smallholder farmers browse One Acre Fund’s product catalogue, view photos and compare prices of items such as seeds and fertilisers, and determine stock availability from their local farming dukas (Swahili for “shops”). One Acre Fund is targeting 100,000 Kenyan farmers with the app and aims to eventually launch it in other African countries. Innovation and entrepreneurship, making a difference on the ground, literally.
Education is essential
The fourth industrial revolution is changing the global labour market. According to the WEF’s Future of Jobs 2023 report, technology adoption will continue to be a primary driver of business transformation during the next five years. During that time, more than 75% of companies are looking to adopt solutions relating to big data, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. It’s estimated that this will disrupt 44% of workers’ skills. For businesses, cognitive skills and technology literacy are becoming essential.Hani Raad, Managing Director for Sub-Saharan Africa Cisco
As African societies and countries continue to develop and digitise, the need for the skills and knowledge to sustain that development comes into sharp focus. It’s why the digital skills gap has long been on the agenda for government and public institutions. Just this year, South Africa’s National Skills Fund is set to provide R800 million to fund digital skills training for young, unemployed people. Even basic skills such as web research and software use are in high demand.
It’s also why Cisco has committed to training 10 million people across the EMEA region during the next 10 years through the Cisco Networking Academy. By offering insight and education in important areas such as networking, cybersecurity, and the Internet of Things (IoT), people are acquiring new skill sets, expanding existing ones, and unlocking employment opportunities. In Kenya and Nigeria alone, more than 90% of students who took Cisco certification courses obtained a job or further education opportunity.
Though there is still much work to be done to connect and enable Africans, the gains made are a step in the right direction and represent the start of Africa’s digital journey. There is significant value in technology. As a continent, we should look forward to witnessing its impact and seeing what it will make possible for many generations to come.