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Policy Harmonisation Will Promote Economies Of Scale For Digital Inclusion

September 28, 2020 | Interview
Published on

By Kerry van der Mescht

By: The News Peak.

JAMES CLAUDE is the Chief Executive Officer of Global Voice Group (GVG), a provider of IT solutions to governments and regulatory authorities. He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on the challenges of technology development in Nigeria and in other African countries, as well as the impact of data mobility in the context of the CoVID-19 pandemic.

The growth of technological innovations in Nigeria and Africa is still at a low state compared to Europe and other developed countries. What needs to be done for transformation in emerging countries?

To fast-track digital transformation in emerging countries, a few elements need to be assessed. This includes, proper infrastructure, connectivity, appropriate regulatory framework and close collaboration between public and private sectors. In Africa in general, including Nigeria, there has been considerable progress over the past decade, of course they have not reached the development level of Europe, for instance, but the progress is undeniable.

Many governments, decision-makers and regulatory bodies lack the necessary infrastructure, connectivity and measurement tools to enable digital transformation in emerging economies. Eventually, there must be solid technical teams, with the skills capable of implementing the right solutions in order to achieve a sustainable digital transformation.

Another important factor is the cost for communicating in Africa, which is still very high compared to the rest of the world. Policy harmonisation will promote economies of scale for digital inclusion. Aware of the need to make communication more affordable throughout the continent, international organizations, including the Smart Africa Alliance, have proposed to adopt a policy harmonization framework across African countries. This could result in economies of scale leading to the reduction of prices and, therefore, to a more effective promotion of digital inclusion.

“Technology democratises access to key public services and helps build sustainable economies. It will allow Africans to become more than consumers of digital goods produced by companies elsewhere. Moreover, it will actively contribute to creating business opportunities both locally and regionally and to providing better e-gov services.”

What have been the impact and the use of mobility data in the context of novel coronavirus pandemics globally and in Africa?

The absence of accurate data location in certain geographies has been a decisive challenge in the context of the government and decision-makers’ growing efforts to control the spread of the pandemic. For this reason, mobile data has proven to be crucial for governments and for the medical community to understand the disease’s spread trajectories and to assess whether the confinement rules were being respected. The data used, in any case, must be fully aggregated and anonymised. The growth of mobile penetration in Africa over the past decade, and the resulting increase in capacity and infrastructure, has placed the mobile network operators (MNOs) in a unique position to facilitate this tracking.  Indeed, the data collected by the mobile network has been used for decision-making in real time, for further processing and forecasting of scientific modelling.

The rise of mobile payment has had positive economic impact on the banking sector in Africa, yet there is yearning for financial inclusion. How can we develop affordable technology to accommodate those people who are still excluded due in part to a lack of basic technological literacy? And how important is technology for the future of Africa, in terms of socio-economic progress and opportunities for the people?

Technology democratises access to key public services and helps build sustainable economies. It will allow Africans to become more than consumers of digital goods produced by companies elsewhere. Moreover, it will actively contribute to creating business opportunities both locally and regionally and to providing better electronic governance services.

In this sense, digital identities play a crucial role as the cornerstone of a sustainable digital ecosystem. Trusted digital identities are essential to ensure a long-standing digitalization process in Africa. Combined with mobile technology, these trusted digital identities have the potential to change the landscape of financial inclusion, by enabling unbanked citizens to access formal banking services. Trusted digital identities also promote overall accountability by establishing a clear link between an individual or entity and a specific action.

Financial inclusion is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges faced by emerging countries. Globally, 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked, yet two-thirds of them own a mobile phone that could help them access financial services. Digital financial transactions are becoming a means to close the gap among the unbanked, leading to a much greater financial inclusion. The same type of technology can also be used to increase literacy and knowledge transfer; ultimately ICTs and even financial inclusion are not ends in themselves but rather means to foster inclusive development.

There are concerns on the impact and risks of technology, particularly as regards cyber-threats that expose operators and users to various types of fraud. What measures can we implement to make the cyber space safer for everyone?

The problem of Internet safety and compliance increasingly concerns, not only Internet users and companies, but also and foremost governments. Indeed, the latter strive to promote the Internet as a driver of socio-economic development while minimizing its inherent risks.

While cyber security is everyone’s responsibility, governments and regulators have a key role to play in this matter, as policy-makers as well as enforcers of laws and regulation. It is with this crucial role in mind that GVG has developed its SafetyNet suite of technologies. Through cutting-edge digital technologies, this suite effectively supports law enforcement, policy compliance and safety throughout the Internet and Mobile ecosystem at a national level. It also provides effective oversight of digital and mobile identities across this ecosystem.

All digital nations are eventually underpinned by digital identities. These are a means by which individuals and businesses prove their identity online. Nevertheless, the precondition for digital identities to consolidate in any nation is trust. If users do not feel their data is protected, no online exchanges or transactions will occur. For this reason, security is a key requirement for strong digital nations in Africa.

Cybercrime is projected to hit about $6 trillion yearly from now to 2021. What can African governments do to fight digital insecurity?

One of the main factors adversely impacting on the creation of solid digital nations across Africa is precisely cyber security. Internet insecurity is a growing concern for governments and regulators, due to its direct impact on the Internet users and the high reach and socio-economic repercussion of cybercrimes.

Building strong digital identities is a key measure to fight this digital insecurity, since trust is a pre-requisite for the successful deployment and development of digital identities. In 2017, according to the World Bank, 82% of all countries issuing national ID cards have rolled out eID programs at a global level. Moreover, digital identities are a key driver of development, digital transformation and, more importantly, digital inclusion in societies.

Since technology development costs money, how can Africa provide its youth with the digital skills they need to be successful at home and abroad? What regulations does Africa need to fast track growth of technology?

Our company promotes ICT knowledge-transfer models in all countries in which we operate, with a key focus on Africa. Our IT specialists oversee the training in the countries where the company operates with the local engineers. These trainings take place in the local headquarters as well as in our European premises. They consist of a comprehensive ICT program aimed at professional development. However, there is a long road ahead; governments should further promote know-how transfer models and take advantage of PPP frameworks to implement the necessary infrastructures.
When discussing regulation, it is important to highlight that Africa, unlike Europe and North America, for example, has not inherited the heavy costs and complexities of replacing or adapting obsolete infrastructures and legacy systems with new ones.

Therefore, the Continent, notwithstanding each country’s characteristics, has plenty of space for the implementation of regulatory structures that support financial inclusion, measure the growth of technology and encourage data analytics for decision-making. Each African nation can improve its own regulations to further promote sustainable economic development. In other words, a dynamic regulatory framework that can easily be adjusted to encourage innovation can be key for fast-track growth of technology.

What roles can telecommunication operators play in positioning Africa for the Fourth industrial revolution as well as digital transformation?

Over the last years, the telecom sector has experienced a profound and fast transformation. The 4th industrial revolution offers great opportunities to the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). OTTs have forced them to change their business model. The arrival of 5G also requires them to come up with new types of services based on IOTs and to ensure the last mile connectivity. Governments should facilitate this process through a flexible data-driven regulatory framework. This is precisely an area where GVG expertise has proven to be key.