I want to begin by greeting my colleagues in Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana & Mauritius. I’d like to also welcome my colleagues from sister organisations such as C-Squared, Seacom and many others who are in Liberia, Ghana, Uganda, Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. I would also like to greet my colleagues in Bangalore, San Jose & Mountain View.
I want to thank everyone for joining us today. I’d also like to thank our partners all over the continent, our staff, friends and community of the internet. As we conduct this launch over Zoom, it is clear that the world is experiencing something that none of us would’ve ever predicted. With that said, I have a message for you all.
The second world war (WWII) fundamentally changed the geopolitical and economic system. The end of the war saw the establishment of the United Nations, General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs and The World Bank. These organisations instituted in a new form of global capital markets driven by foreign direct investments.
Like other pandemics that have come before it, COVID-19 will fundamentally change the global architecture and operating models to what will soon be known as the post-COVID state. Digital tools and the internet will underpin this new model. COVID- 19 has availed the opportunity to revisit the global digital infrastructure. We need to relook the way global digital architecture is organised. Currently, there is an inherent risk in the skewed digital landscape. There are high concentrations of digital infrastructure in some parts of the world, continent or country. Post COVID-19 digital architecture and operating models will require all of us, particularly on the continent, to move with speed in reversing the current state of IP transit that is predominantly outside the continent. This externalisation presents a significant risk for the immediate and future of digital Africa. Today intra-Africa IP traffic is 15% while externally transiting IP traffic is 73%. Africa needs to build IP Exchanges and Hyper-scale Data Centers as a matter of urgency post-COVID-19. The Data Center infrastructure must be equitably spread across all the regions and sub-regions of the African continent. Unless Africa develops a clear Pan-African digital strategy, our reliance on external digital infrastructure presents an unmeasurable risk in the near future. Alongside digital infrastructure is the urgent need to upskill African millennials with advanced digital skills such as cloud, AI and network automation. By upskilling African millennials with these advanced skills, we will be preparing them to adequately deal with pandemics such as the one we are in now using digital skills.
The development of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization(NFV) skills are critical to ensure business continuity during these times of crisis when people are unable to go to repair sites. SDN and NFV will allow the businesses to serve the needs of their customers remotely during lockdowns. The availability of cloud computing has also been instrumental during this lockdown period, not only in Africa but across the world. Companies continue to function by leveraging cloud solutions. In these trying times, it gives me hope to see technology companies hard at work to ensure that their clients remain connected. As a technology company, we must be proud that we are allowing our clients to continue their operations without any interruptions during this period.
COVID-19 pandemic exposed one of the intricate fault lines in the digital space. Some analysts argue that the surge in cybercrime has increased by nearly or just over 500%. This is manifested in the form of DDoS, Ransomware, Phishing, identity theft and new types of social engineering, deep fake and fake news. These groups use sophisticated search engine optimisation tools to follow and track ordinary people. The psychological impact of this to society at this time that most families are trying to cope with COVID-19 is causing stress amongst family, friends and colleagues. Nation-States of both developed and developing world do not have the tools and skills to deal with this psychological impact. The most aggressive weaponisation of information has availed itself during COVID-19 lockdowns. The danger this presents to children and vulnerable people is immense. This is more so in communities that unable to protect themselves. There is no doubt that today’s Global Internet governance model will be revisited to protect ordinary people who want to trade, conduct e-commerce and engage their loved ones. During COVID- 19, the internet has become dangerous and emotionally draining. There is a need to broaden the online ecosystem and innovation taking place to involve all those who are separated by the digital divide. Africa private and public sector should curve an internet governance model that will encourage Africa’s digitalisation by 2030. This will require investments to be injected with immediate effect. The education sector is one critical industry that will need a capital injection. The digitalisation of education at all levels should be treated an urgent priority.
COVID-19 has changed 4th Industrial Revolution priorities for many governments. There is now a focus on e-health and telemedicine. The Nation States will need to resource and fund not only e-health or telemedicine strategies and policy but full implementation and or roll out of these service to both urban and rural areas. Legislation and regulations that will enable telemedicine and e-health development will have to be prioritised and promulgated across the African continent.
Data is one of the most important catalysts of good governance and business intelligence tool. Unless Africa is able to harness its own big data, sources and be able to build data lakes in the continent that will aggregate all our data, it will be difficult to understand the picture of today’s Africa let alone our future. While we need to respect and maintain our sovereign interest, sharing data based on anonymity under the auspices of AU or equivalent structure is the only we can better understand and fight the COVID-19 or any future pandemic. The next strategy of Africa must be centred around shared data modelling. African data scientists can analyse that. Africa needs to establish a universal High-Performance Computing Platform with the minimum capability of no less than 100 Petaflops. This infrastructure will be required to compute and to understand the future of Africa better-using data. The critical nature of Data and relevant skills is what Africa urgently needs. Without data, we cannot understand or model our response to pandemics or catastrophes. As climate change is an indispensable reality, we need to work out and model scenarios using high-performance computing platforms. This is the only route to predict the future and to be able to plan for any future pandemic or similar disaster. Data is not only an asset for future planning but a tool that is critical in tactical responses.
Food security is one of the most critical issues that Africa will need to address. Data is one essential foundation in modern agriculture. Data can only drive increasing yield and just in time delivery of agricultural produce from farms to cities and homes. In Africa, with so many small-scale farmers, the only way that we can be able to connect these farmers is through digital means.
Pre COVID-19, Africa has been leading in mobile money transfers. This will need to be further developed for this service to reach the deepest rural part of the continent. Relaxing digital financial regulations for this to happen is urgent in particular those countries that still do not allow mobile money transfer as part of the digital business ecosystem. A partnership between Government and Private Sector on a continent-wide basis will be necessary if we as Africans want to build a digital future. The world after COVID-19 will reset the digital clock. Unless Africa moves fast in defining what the priority for Africa is, we might find ourselves in a digital colony. A clear strategy and at the enterprise level, sector level, government, industry or sector and all digital natives need to participate in planning their future. As the world is debating post-COVID-19 operating models and ecosystems, where are we in this debate?
While we are in the eye of COVID-19 storm, we cannot wait and start only after COVID-19 to plan our digital future, and we need to start now. Africa both in the continent and the diaspora have the knowledge and skills to drive this future. It is in the interest of future generations that we need to create a digital Africa that can withstand pandemics, Cyber Attacks, Social Engineering or even “digital pandemic”. Collaboration and working together is the only route to success.
The world is a different place and will never be the same again. Capital markets, movement of natural persons, trade of goods and services, economic, cultural and political relations will all change.
To the African youth, we need to create more digital natives. The role technology plays in situations such as these is critical. We need to decide how we want Africa to look post COVID-19. We need to determine how, as a continent, we will ensure we are better prepared for pandemics such as this one because there will be more. I say we need to create more digital natives because I believe that technology is the one tool that we have to be able to prepare ourselves for times of crisis adequately.
Andile Ngcaba is the founding partner and chairman of Convergence Partners.
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