For far too long, Africa’s technology talents have shied away from taking the world by storm, instead looking to global investors to finance localized problems to varying degrees of success. They cannot be blamed much for the challenges they face in solving these problems. Many of these tech brains are not properly supported by governments and local investors.
But times are different now and with COVID-19, this is the best time for Africa’s tech talents to show the world what they have been hiding all these while. With the virus wreaking havoc to lives and economies in Europe, North and South America, and Asia, the impact on Africa, even though devastating is better than other parts of the world and one cannot help see the opportunities inherent.
To nudge them in the right direction, four seasoned technology and finance professionals are throwing their voices behind the call for governments across the continent to give all the support needed to players in the technology space, to enable the invention of global solutions to transform their economies.
Speaking at the MTN Business World Breakfast Meeting, which went digital for the first time due to COVID-19, these four industry professionals believe COVID-19 offers Africa better opportunities to hone its destiny and redefine the future. The event was held under the theme: ‘The Future of Work is Here-Preparing the Work Place for New Talent Needs’.
The four, Estelle Akofio Sowah, West Africa Regional Manager, CSquared; Julian Opuni, CEO Fidelity Bank, Ghana; Ehi Benitie, Co-Founder, Rancard and CEO of Clear Space Labs; and Franklin Asare, Country Director Oracle Ghana are optimistic that, if some more conscious efforts are put into empowering technological firms on the continent, the global economy would be dictated by Africa soon.
But before the ball was set rolling, Selorm Adadevoh, Chief Executive Officer for MTN Ghana, touched on when the world used to think that digitalization is the future of work but COVID-19 has brought the future to the present so quickly and businesses and organisations are adapting.
“We all said the future is digital but now COVID-19 has accelerated the process and today, we can say both the present and future are all digital,” he says. The world is changing rapidly and institutions such as MTN, which has evolved over time, is leading the charge for the future, which is now the present.
Touching on the theme, ‘The Future of Work is Here– Preparing the Work Place for New Talents Needs’, Mr. Adadevoh believes it couldn’t have been selected at a better time. “We are embracing the ‘new normal’ of doing a whole lot of activities through digital means,” Mr. Adadevoh said.
But then the question is, what can Africa do to stand out? Simple but decisive actions are required to make it possible for Africa to lead this new normal, the experts believe. They recommend the establishment of technology parks, introduction of policy guidelines that nurtures development of tech talent, motivating these talents to remain on the continent but effect change in the world and securing the digital space against cyber-attacks.
This is Africa’s time to build technology parks
To Franklin Asare, Country Director Oracle Ghana, African governments need to draft COVID-19 work strategies that would be technologically driven and also support the establishment of technology parks to enable the youth to explore opportunities. Technology parks, he opines, would act as pressure cookers allowing the young people who want to innovate to do so in conducive environments while bonding them together to work for a common goal.
“These days you can code in anything, angular and the others, and create digital products. Africa is ready: COVID-19 is for us. The Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement provides a fine opportunity,” Mr. Asare said.
Estelle Akofio Sowah, West Africa Regional Manager, CSquared, chipped in that the proposal for the establishment of technology parks across the continent must be a private sector led initiative to achieve the maximum benefit in the shortest possible time. What is really needed to get it off the ground and running is effective collaboration between government and the private sector.
Young guns needed in African civil services
While at it, a conscious effort is also needed to attract young brains into the government sector to help with new ideas to transform the economy and that can be done when there is a technological change in government business, Mr. Asare says. Several analysts over the years have pushed for fresh brains in African civil services. The hope is to see this dream become reality.
“There has to be a cultural change, government has been in the old world and this has worsened the problem. We need to appreciate that we are in a cloud age, we need to appreciate technology. The government needs to be able to attract young people into the Civil Service, that doesn’t seem to be so now. Without the right technology infrastructure these kids are not coming.”
Motivation speeds up the innovation process
Adding his voice to the development of Africa’s talent, Ehi Benitie, Co-Founder, Rancard, Africa says Africa’s youth need motivation to solve the continent and the world’s problems. To many African youth, the dream is to travel to Europe, Asia and America to make it and this is as a result of the low motivation here. They are resigned to a hopeless future despite the trumpets blowing ‘Africa Rising’.
Thus Mr. Benitie believes opening up and linking economies on the continent is the surest way of motivating the brains to stay and develop the world from here. “Our raw material is unbelievable, the brains in Africa, the talent, the people, fantastic,” he says, pointing out that with technology and AI (Artificial Intelligence), it becomes easier to reduce the poverty gap and offer a way to these talents to stay.
To governments, technology and AI present the opportunity to put the best talents behind the world’s biggest problems, while still being in Ghana and not moving them out of Ghana. “What automation does for us, is to create new industries and new opportunities and new drivers for growth,” he added.
Clear policy guidelines could speed up acceptance of new normal
While the talks about technology parks, motivation and infusing fresh brains in the continents civil services, without adequate and effective policy guidelines and direction, nothing can be achieved and this is what Estelle Akofio Sowah, West Africa Regional Manager, CSquared, is pushing for.
In her eyes, COVID-19 has fast tracked the future of work and therefore governments and businesses must begin to draft some new and clear policies on efficiency, securing the future of the youth and other work indicators. For her, many people are now working from home and are just as effective as they would be in the office and that must be recognized as quickly as possible. She also believes this is the time Africa must rely on itself for economic growth.
With self-reliance comes acknowledging the good deeds of African colleagues. She cited the examples of a Ghanaian innovator who made an automated handwashing device, KNUST and University of Ghana doing some work with regards to testing, etc. “Let’s rely on ourselves; let’s celebrate and tell the world. COVID has been a great example and the world has been waiting for Africa to explode and that isn’t what has happened. So, let’s tell our own story, lets embrace our own innovation and actually use them and invest in them,” she adds.
Prioritise cybersecurity as more work move online
With its countless advantages, technology has one major drawback: cyberattacks. This moved Julian Opuni, Chief Executive Officer for Fidelity Bank, to advocate that this is the time all sectors must give some more attention to cyber security as it will define the success of all the hard work that would be put in by businesses.
“As we migrate a lot of activities and transaction unto the digital platform both for internal working and also for serving your customers, it (cyber security) now becomes high priority. So, every organization would have to now re-prioritize all their initial projects even as early as January,” he said.
On banking, he believes even though the number of staff vis-à-vis bank branches would see a significant reduction, human interaction would have a critical role to play in satisfying client needs. Soft skills, according to him, would take preeminence as working skills set to change. He charged leaders to take bold steps and move all the great ideas on paper to reality.