The widely publicised webinar on ‘Africa: The Next Digital Frontier’, second in the series, organised by Rack Centre, West Africa’s largest Carrier Neutral Tier III Data Centre, in collaboration with the leading professional services firm PwC (Nigeria), took place on Thursday September 16, 2021 with speakers and participants suggesting ways Africa can leverage the digital revolution to boost the continent’s economic development/growth.
With a focus on Digital Infrastructure as a Key enabler for growth, Dr Ayotunde (Tunde) Coker, the chief executive officer of Rack Centre, in his opening remarks, emphasised the urgent need to close the prosperity gap in Africa.
This, Dr Coker said, can be achieved by investments and not aids. He cited an example of the growth in mobile telephony, which “has shown that if we get the business model right, this growth can be significant”.
He also said that with much progress in the under-sea cable and the development of fibre and broadband connectivity, these developments give huge opportunities for infrastructure growth on the continent.
Andile Ngcaba, the controlling shareholder and non-executive chairman & Founding Partner of Convergence Partners, globally respected investment management firm focused on Technology, Media & the Telecoms sector, delivered the keynote.
According to him, the webinar could not have come at a better time, stressing that the liberation of the telecom in Africa has been significant.
Ngcaba, however, aligns with the school of thought that Africa now needs investments in hyperscale Infrastructure.
“Since Africa 4.0 will be led by hyperscale Infrastructure, we need to build mega data centres in all parts of Africa. Hundreds of billion dollars are needed to close the gap.
“We need direct foreign investment; we need men & women to build the edge network”.
While commended the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the keynote speaker expressed confidence that this generation will deliver.
“Investment, investment and investment is what we need to build digital Infrastructure-in all spheres of development in Africa,” Ngcaba said.
Digital Infrastructure, Ngcaba added, goes beyond telecommunications, and industry players need to utilise the youth that Africa is blessed with as they will build the 4.0 digital Infrastructure.
Femi Osinubi, partner and West Africa Technology Leader for PwC Nigeria, emphasised that ‘digital’ is needed to mitigate today’s challenges.
Fortunately, as he identified, digitalisation has come of age, especially with the automation of devices, “and we keep moving from digital points to another. What we need in Africa is Infrastructure to drive the revolution.
Osinubi said the digital drives in Africa are not without challenges.
“There is insufficient power in Africa – low broadband penetration, insufficient data centres, last mile connectivity issues, and uneven Infrastructure in the rural and the urban areas. And increase in cyber risks.
“And we need reliable data centres to drive digitalisation. So we need to invest in our networks and make them accessible and invest in power to make them readily available and increase the number of the data centres”, Osinubi reiterated.
To Norman Albi, the CEO of AFR-IX Telecom, a global internet service provider, the growth of countries is today driven more by the private sector than the government.
Nevertheless, the government needs to set up clear rules and an enabling environment.
Albi said, “There is a need for massive growth and investment in digital Infrastructure. There is a need to remove entry barriers- the government needs to enable clear rules and an environment to develop skill sets.
Elmo Hildebrand, partner, TMT leader for PwC South Africa, who moderated the panel session, reminded participants that Africa now accounts for 16% of the world’s total population but will be 25% more in the forthcoming years and mostly going to be youths.
Unfortunately, the continent cannot boast of having enough Infrastructure to serve this population growth.
“So, an acceleration of investment is expected in datacenters; telecom and international companies like Google and others are already investing in Africa.
“To be successful, we need to understand the market, especially in this period of COVID-19”, he added.
Lanre Kolade, the group CEO of CSquared, was the next to speak.
He highlighted the importance of a ‘trust economy and the need for education policymakers to create the right environment; investors must be ready for the long haul.
“There is also a need for the investors to understand the environment- traffic in Africa has to stay local; it is not local now, making the internet to be expensive. That is an opportunity for both the government and the investors.
“Policymakers should understand that investment has to be attractive for investors to invest in them.
The CSquared boss called for inter-Africa internet connectivity, and barriers to investments have to be reduced.
He said that the telecoms sector needs to be unbundled to allow the private sector to bring in the money to build Infrastructure.
“If the right framework is available, with the right incentive, the needed investment will pour in. But the investment will come in; it is a matter of time”, he believes.
On her part, Susan Mulikita, the chief regulatory officer of Bandwidth & Cloud Services Group (BCS), said that conversation between the government and players is needed to create an enabling legal framework.
“Since there is a lot of push back, we need dialogue between the government and the stakeholders across the entire spectrum. There is a need to create opportunities for balancing.
“Business must create a strategy for business continuity and disaster recovery and ensure continuous surveillance so that services are not interrupted.
“Also constant and continuing upgrades and ensuring adequate security, especially centralised security, are required.
Mulikita opines that with the constant ‘meeting of minds, ‘ services provided can become more affordable.
Meanwhile, in his contributions during the panel session, Andile Ngcaba said that “Africa have contents”.
In his view, “We need to make sure that the internet goes around Africa. So we need to build more data centres and build more fibre in addition to building more digital Infrastructure.
Yes, Africa is going to be fully digitalised by 2035, and the growth going forward will be an accelerated one. But we need to decentralised power with the micro distribution.
“I am very positive, and this positive mind is not coming out of the blue”.
“Can we leapfrog? Yes, but we need to build basic Infrastructure from the sea to the land, build major cities, and we need investments to do that.
Speaking on growing innovation among youngsters in Africa, he said, “There is a revolution going on already in the startup ecosystem; cryptocurrency, the innovation is unbelievable. Africa is on the threshold of surprises.
In his closing remarks, Dr Coker, the Rack Centre boss reminded African leaders, investors and consumers that content is going to be a key part in the growth of the digital revolution in Africa.
“And trust among stakeholders is going to be very important going forward”.
In case you missed the session, you can watch it here: