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LETTERS: Digital economy lessons from summit

President Uhuru Kenyatta with his Rwanda
President Uhuru Kenyatta with his Rwanda counterpart Paul Kagame (left) and Mali’s Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (centre) at the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. PHOTO | SAMUEL MIRINGU | NMG 

The 2019 Transform Africa Summit that was held in Kigali, Rwanda, came to a very colourful end on May 17. The summit, which was primarily held to discuss management of the digital economy in Africa, was even more pan-African in spirit compared to other similar summits held in the past.

It was attended by over a 1,000 corporate executives from all over the world. Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) also attended.

Mr Kenyatta took the opportunity to call for the trans-boundary ICT infrastructure that is contained in the Kenya government blueprint on ICT as one of the State’s flagship projects.

In a nutshell, all the world-class top minds of digital technology at the summit agreed that Africa is the fastest growing digital economy that needs support through good governance, management of the digital resources and technical support.

The summit was held to provide a platform to discuss the latest ideas on digital economy, its management and entrepreneurship that comes with it. Africa’s governance failures to provide optimum environment for digital economy were often mentioned by the participants at the Summit.

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One of the speakers at the summit, Fatouma Ba of Senegal, was more concerned with the vices of what she described as Africa’s mobile phone paradox. She cautioned that it is not economically logical for Africa to import more than a billion-plus mobile phones every year and yet it cannot afford to start local manufacturing of cell-phone software, gadgets and the related technologies.

She argued that African governance must liberate its domestic digital economies to begin manufacturing mobile phone products.

The summit enjoyed good media coverage. It also had spot-on translations for the three languages of Arabic, English and French.

However, the local eastern Africa lingua franca of Kiswahili was not accepted as the language of the conference, a clear testimony that it is not yet a language of technology.

This linguistic exclusion must have impacted significantly on the indigenous Kiswahili speakers from Kenya and Tanzania.

This was evident in the fact that, in spite of proximity, there were no Kiswahili-based digital innovations presented for discourse and exhibition at the summit.

This was in contrast to the number of digital innovators and presenters from Arabic speaking Northern Africa that had very significant intellectual presence at the summit.

Dr Paul Ingabire, Rwanda’s ICT minister and also the key person at Smart Africa Alliance, observed that it is the vision at ‘Transform Africa Summit’ to digitise the broad African economy by working towards having optimum finance tools, support of the human capital, shunning of the traditional industries, subsidising of the venture capital investments, digitising the global chains, boosting of mentorship programmes in the technical societies and forestalling of the big organisations from cannibalizing on the small and medium digital organisations in Africa, the small organisations that need to be encouraged to focus on digitizing agriculture, transport and health-care.

Dr Ingabire argued that digitising essential economies in Africa only needs careful ideation, then capitalisation, implementation, control and then expansion.

However, not all the questions challenging the viability of Africa’s digital economy were satisfactorily answered. For example, Nick Nudrick, a European participant at the summit, asked how Africa’s digital economy can succeed when sensitive data on African cs is not kept in the continent, but in Western data bases like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Instagram and others.

He asked why Africans can’t keep their digital data in the continent before talking of building the digital economy. This question was not answered.

Most interesting above all else is when Eugene Kaspersky from Kapersky Laboratory gave a talk on cyber-security. He told the summit that the modern threats to cyber-security are cyber-criminals and state-sponsored espionage.

Alexander Opicho, Lodwar

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