Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia has cast an inspiring and insightful vision of how government plans to use digitalisation as a tool for economic transformation. In a well-researched and expertly presented speech last week, Dr. Bawumia described digitalisation as the engine-block of an economy.
According to Wikipedia, an engine-block is the structure that contains the cylinders and other parts of an engine. The purpose of the engine-block is to support components of the engine and protect the engine from damage. Impliedly, digitalisation is the new system or the engine-block that will protect Ghana’s economy. The new ‘System’ is the Engine Block of our development. “We are building this new ‘system’ because it positions us to be globally competitive in the emerging digital revolution,” says the Vice President.
Dr. Bawumia notes that digitalisation has heralded the fourth industrial revolution, and is increasingly becoming the foundation on which more jobs can be created. Besides, it has the capacity to boost productivity, increase incomes and support wealth-creation over time. Citing the Economic Forum’s Global Information Report, Dr. Bawumia underscored the point that: “An increase of 10% in a country’s digitalisation score results in a 0.75% growth of GDP per capita”. It is therefore clear that countries which fail to digitalise their economies are likely to be uncompetitive in the emerging global digital revolution; countries that fail to digitalise will be left behind.
Data as an economic resource
Furthermore, in 2017 the Economist Magazine pointed out that: “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”. Data is as important in this Fourth Industrial Revolution as oil discoveries were for countries decades ago. According to Dr. Bawumia, the World Bank President, David Malpass, recently stated at a G20 summit that: “ Without digitalisation, we won’t be able to reap the full benefits of human progress”. Perhaps, the above assertions justify government’s policy of anchoring development of the economy around digitalisation.
Dr. Bawumia explained that in 2017 when the Akufo-Addo government assumed office, the ‘system’ held major challenges for digitalisation of the economy. One of the key challenges was absence of a unique identification for citizens and residents. Dr. Bawumia explained that poor identification made it possible and common for someone to be born in Ghana, to live and die in Ghana, without any form of identification. The lack of identification also made room for inefficiency and corruption in the delivery of public services.
Thus, the issuance of biometric national ID cards (The Ghanacard) became a priority for government. Sadly, the previous Mills-Mahama and Mahama-Amissah-Arthur administrations shelved the Ghanacard project started by the Kufuor administration. This indicates a complete lack of appreciation for the significance of digitalisation by leaders of the previous governments. Dr. Bawumia disclosed that, currently, 15.7 million people have been enrolled on the Ghanacard – with the rest of the population expected to be enrolled by 2022.
Apart from establishing the identity of Ghanaians, the Ghanacard also doubles as an electronic passport (e-passport) that can be used to authenticate the identity of travellers. The Vice President disclosed that government has commenced discussion with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to activate the e-passport function of the Ghanacard. This follows Ghana’s admission as the 79th member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Public Key Directory (PKD) community. With this membership, Ghana’s Signing Certificate Authority will soon be imported into the ICAO PKD System.
All things being equal, by March 2022 the Ghanacard will be recognised globally as an e-passport and can be verified in all ICAO-compliant borders (in 197 countries and 44,000 airports of the world). “When this happens, holders of the Ghanacard will be allowed to board any flight to Ghana. Furthermore, diasporan Ghanaians who hold the Ghanacard will not require visas for travelling to Ghana.”
According to Dr. Bawumia, one of the biggest problems formerly impeding financial sector development was the issue of financial exclusion. This means that many Ghanaians were excluded from fully participating in the financial system because of hindrances in opening and operating bank and financial services accounts. Prior to digitalisation of the financial system, 70% of people in Ghana had no bank accounts. Currently, however, 80% of the adult population with mobile phones (30 million) have mobile money accounts, which are equivalent to bank accounts.
Besides, Mobile Money Interoperability (MMI) has made it possible to easily transfer money across different mobile money providers, and between bank accounts and mobile wallets. Payments can also made from any bank account into a mobile money account, thanks to MMI. With this innovation, Ghana has emerged as the first country in Africa and one of a few in the world to achieve interoperability between bank accounts and mobile wallets. “The data show that because of MMI, Ghana is the fastest-growing mobile money market in Africa,” according to the Vice President.
Without doubt, the digital payments infrastructure is boosting e-commerce in Ghana. “Many people who cannot afford to rent or build shops are able to do business on the Internet at little cost, with deliveries helped by digital addresses and payments using MMI,” he noted. What’s more government recently launched a Universal QR CODE payments system that allows traders, service providers and individuals to receive payments instantly on their phones as customers scan their QR CODE. Also, when payment is made they receive the money instantly in their bank or mobile money account and get a notification on their phones.
The ongoing digitalisation drive has improved access to government services through the Ghana.gov portal. By end of the year when all government institutions are on Ghana.Gov platform, Ghanaians should be able to apply for and obtain any government service online. Hence, all payments for public services will go directly into government accounts; thus removing the human interface and reducing bribery and corruption. Besides, Ghana. Gov is designed to provide a feedback feature that enables users to report problems with public services to the relevant authorities.
Digitalisation of Hospitals
Another feature of digitalisation is to reduce the heavy paperwork at all hospitals across the country. According to Dr. Bawumia, the process of locating patients’ files was cumbersome – apart from misplacement or misfiling of records. This causes delays and inefficiencies in the delivery of health services. The response is to connect health facilities under the Ghana Health Service (GHS) to one digital platform. So far, all teaching hospitals and all regional hospitals have been linked and can communicate and transfer data. More recently, 36 health facilities in the Central Region have also been connected to the digital platform in a pilot scheme, while other hospitals are in the process of connection, he explained.
The outcome is that a patient referred from, say, Tamale Teaching Hospital to Korle-bu Teaching Hospital in Accra will not need to carry a physical folder, since all the details are in the health digital data. “All records will be seen and monitored by the doctor in Korle Bu when you arrive,” Dr. Bawumia emphasised.
Prior to the launch of medical drones, hospitals and clinics in remote and rural communities had difficulty getting medical supplies for emergencies like snake-bites, childbirth, blood supplies, floods. In response the government contracted Zipline, the world’s largest automated service for medical supplies. As at now, Ghana is the second African country after Rwanda to implement medical delivery services for remote communities, according to the Vice President. As a result of the innovation, several lives have been saved through the timely delivery of medical services to the remotest communities across the country.
According to Dr. Bawumia, this intervention has made Ghana the largest medical-drone delivery service in the world. Zipline is also set to begin delivery of medicines to bedridden patients by end of the year. This will be the first such home-delivery of medical supplies in the world. “What’s even more impressive is that the drone centres are entirely managed by young, talented Ghanaians.”
Digitalisation will also cover and improve pharmaceutical services. Basically, the digital e-Pharmacy platform will enable people to upload their prescriptions and find out which pharmacies have specific drugs online. Besides this, E-pharmacy allows customers to compare prices for the same drug offered by different pharmacies. Interestingly, customers will be able to order drugs and pay for them through mobile money. The medicines will then be delivered to customers through a courier service, which is an emerging avenue of job creation for the youth. Quite significantly, the e-Pharmacy will address the issue of drug abuse by restricting over-the-counter purchases of drugs like Tramadol, which is abused by the youth. “This will make Ghana the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to have a nationwide e-Pharmacy.”
Dr. Bawumia buttressed the point that digitilisation is the key instrument of economic transformation. Unlike roads, hospitals, houses which are physical infrastructure, digitalisation is classified as soft infrastructure – which cannot be easily seen, but with time becomes the foundation for unleashing the potential of an economy. As Dr. Bawumia noted: “It takes some time for the full benefits of digitalisation to manifest. The infrastructure we have put in place for digitalisation is soft infrastructure”.
Another bit of refreshing news is that Ghana’s digital transformation is ongoing without foreign-aid and predominantly private sector-driven. “We have partnered with the private sector to make sure Ghana does not go out of the business of progress,” says Dr. Bawumia.
Dr. Bawumia re-echoed the controversial topic of youth enterprise, linking digitalisation and youth enterprise. Last month, Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta suggested that the youth should endeavour to acquire entrepreneurial skills and own businesses, rather than relying on the public sector for employment. Last week, Dr. Bawumia pointed out that the digital revolution is a youth-driven revolution. “It is your revolution, and I look forward to all of you playing a role in making our nation great and strong. We must believe in our capabilities,” he challenged the youth.
Unfortunately, many sceptics, especially non-savvy politicians, are failing to appreciate the link between digitalisation and long-term economic development. I have heard some politicians pouring cold water on this major policy direction, which is the engine block of an economy as Dr. Bawumia pointed out. Such people are not only backward but are also mired in the old economy – which was ridden with bureaucracy, corruption, nepotism, favouritism, exclusion, inefficiency and low productivity. As Dr. Bawumia illustrated, without digitalisation there is no new economy – and there is no returning to the old economy.