Vodacom released an article discussing the potential of African ICT to drive intra-continental growth. Africa faces challenges in internal movement of goods, services, and opportunities.
The African Continental Free Trade Areas (AfCFTA) has made it a priority to boost interior trade and transport to aid the continent’s progress. With the rapid growth of digitisation, Vodacom is committed to playing its role in Africa’s ICT growth.
Africa is an enormous land mass made up of 54 countries. Yet the continent lags behind the world in the interior movement of people, goods, services, trade and opportunities. In fact, Industries Without Smokestacks (Oxford University Press 2018) shows the collected countries of Sub-Saharan Africa support fewer air-travel seats annually than Brazil, and barely even match the numbers of the State of Washington in the US. Africa’s biggest potential for growth and stability – interior travel, trade and collaboration – remains largely unrealised.
But that’s where the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) steps in. The organisation aims to change this dynamic, and the African Union (AU) has made 2023 the Year of AfCFTA. A report released last year by the United Nations Economic Commissions for Africa predicts that AfCFTA will boost intra-trade transport in Africa by a whopping 50%. It’s encouraging that AfCFTA will have an even greater impact soon. This is because digital technologies (ICT) across Africa are working together towards this single goal.
Africa is digitising fast and data consumption is exploding. More people are getting connected, data centres are mushrooming, major submarine cables have made landfall and cross-border terrestrial networks are now penetrating deeper across the continent.
Africa’s growth potential
The latest research from the FTTx Council Africa’s Digital Council reveals these figures for Sub-Saharan Africa alone:
- 470 million+ Internet users
- 58.2% of people live within 25km of fibre nodes
- Telcos have 169 000+ towers
- 1.17 million kilometres of operational fibre-optic networks
- 26.7Tb per second of bandwidth, 16% of which is already consumed by intra-African traffic.
These figures show Africa’s potential for interior trade and travel, reinforcing the African Union’s vision for AfCFTA: “Trade as a developmental Agenda for Africa”. We already see the power of this in terms of data and connectivity. Several years ago, Africa did not have a single local hyper-scale cloud data centre. Today, it hosts primary sites for Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Huawei Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and many other major vendor sites.
Companies in Africa are using more and more services provided by African data centres and technology companies. In the past, South Africa’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector played a significant role in driving ICT innovation and supporting startups in the region. However, other African countries are quickly catching up and realising their potential by developing ICT hubs and clusters. They’re attracting a large amount of investment to support this technological revolution. For example, ICT represented more than 10% of Kenya’s service exports in 2017, according to the University of Nairobi. There’s even an acronym for the rising giants of African ICT, coined by entrepreneur and business developer Eric Osiakwan: KINGS (Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa).
ICT and its ingredients – data and connectivity – demonstrate the potential of intra-African movement for all Africans, as well as the rest of the world. Getting there is not easy: Technology companies can cite many examples of barriers and struggles, but they can also explain how they overcame those problems.
The African Union’s focus on boosting AfCFTA is essential and it’s an initiative we can all support. Many challenges still exist, though. For trade between African countries to work well, there needs to be better agreement on laws that apply across borders, and the infrastructure, like roads and harbours, must improve. It’s also important to enhance regional security. However, there is a significant lack of skilled ICT workers in Africa, and many people are unable to benefit from technology due to a large gap in access and knowledge. This divide prevents many Africans from using technology to improve their lives and participate more effectively in their chosen professions.
But the Vodacom Business Africa Group is making progress. We are firmly committed to playing our role in helping Africa achieve its full potential as envisioned by AfCTA. As a company that brings together ICT services from across the continent, we collaborate with technology partners and their multinational enterprise clients in all African countries. For more than 15 years, we’ve been providing ICT services and global connectivity that have fuelled Africa’s growth, particularly for the multinational companies that have ventured into the continent. Working together, we’re solving various problems and making a significant impact on companies, communities, and nations. This includes both indigenous African companies experiencing remarkable growth and multinational companies that want to be part of Africa’s success story.
For ICT companies like Vodacom Business Africa Group to support and help drive the AfCFTA’s agenda, government’s support to create an environment with greater ease of doing business is needed, for a more integrated approach with seamless processes on taxes, import duties, trade controls, Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) equipment type approvals, etc. Such challenges constitute additional barriers, which translate to higher costs and difficulties in trading in the region, despite the appetite to participate on the part of ICT ecosystem players. While the free trade zones does help to lower some of these barriers, it needs to be complemented by other government efforts to promote the promise of an integrated Africa.Guy Clarke: Managing Director, Vodacom Business International
Africa’s ICT growth wasn’t spontaneous, nor did it occur in a vacuum. Those gains represent multilateral collaboration that leads to substantial and lasting progress. Collaboration is the catalyst of an integrated and strong Africa. The same spirit will bolster the AfCFTA’s successes.
The AfCFTA presents a unique opportunity for the continent to attain economic emancipation, which will lead to job creation, poverty alleviation, improved welfare and sustainable development.Quote by the African Union
So does African ICT. Let’s all help realise the potential of the African millennium. We are already on our way there.