What is required to assist Africa’s technological advancement?




In a panel conversation at this year’s AfriTech conference, digital transformation was described as being one of Africa’s biggest drivers of economic growth, job creation, and optimisation of businesses across Africa. Africa’s fintech sector, for example, has the potential to produce answers to many problems that Africans face, whether it be the continent’s low savings rate or the improvement of financial inclusion.

These technological advancements, as the experts in this piece argue, are essential for improving quality of life, economic renewal, and industry growth for businesses and citizens across the continent. Financial inclusion, for example, might be looked at beyond just having a bank account; it’s about being able to save for the future, take out a loan to fund a child’s education or start a business, or even simply insure belongings.

Infrastructure that supports digital engagement 

After two world-changing years, 2022 was supposed to represent a return to normal for most businesses. It’s turned out to be anything but. Geopolitical uncertainty, inflation, and the looming threat of recession mean that few businesses (apart, perhaps, from the oil companies seeing record profits) feel entirely comfortable about their short to medium-term growth prospects.

“Within this environment of uncertainty, digital engagement remains critical. But just as the global business environment has again shifted, so have the factors driving the importance of digital communication. Throughout much of 2020 and 2021, it was the only way for businesses to engage with their customers, especially when lockdowns were at their peaks. Today, it’s more about meeting customers where they are, no matter where in the world they might actually be. This shift is only further underscored by the fact that the global online audience will be almost as big as the global TV audience by 2023,” comments Brent Haumann, the MD of digital communications firm, Tilte.

Infrastructure development that supports the growth of digital engagement for both the public and the private sector will certainly go a long way, giving business owners more comfort around growth prospects.

Regulation that supports technological advancement 

In terms of regulation, it was inevitable that, at some point, African authorities would start regulating cryptocurrencies. While the South African Revenue Service (SARS) for example has long treated earnings from cryptocurrencies as income tax, the government has made it clear that it believes more interventions are needed.

Tony Mallam, the MD of fintech platform upnup, comments that: “While some crypto diehards will view any attempt to regulate the space as anathema to the philosophy of cryptocurrencies, it was inevitable that regulations would come at some point. Rather than viewing them as something to be resented, legitimate players in the crypto space should view them as an opportunity.”

“Regulation could, for instance, make it easier for crypto companies to collaborate with traditional banks, leading to even greater adoption. Additionally, should the majority of players in the space adhere to these regulations, it could further open the space in the future. For instance, pension funds currently remain barred from investing in cryptocurrencies. If regulations can help address some of the concerns around volatility and bad actors in the space, that can only be a good thing,” concludes Mallam.

Lifelong learning must underpin tech advancement

Ursula Fear, Senior Talent Programme Manager at Salesforce South Africa, believes that lifelong learning and tech advancement go hand in hand. “Technology is the chariot that’s bringing the jobs, but we need to ensure that we’re training, developing and upskilling people to take up these jobs. Learning and development cannot be a tick box exercise for business, where the goal is simply to say, ‘we’ve done a thing’, but needs to consider the whole person development process, along with the evolving critical needs of the future workplace.”

She adds that lifelong learning is the only way to protect ourselves against obsolescence. “Lifelong learning is the only way we’ll address the skills shortage too many industries face. Lifelong learning is the only way to learn, today and into the future.”

Fintech is the way to financial inclusion

Cash flow and capital are the lifeblood of any business. Technology has democratised access to financial services. By using user data, fintech has created more avenues for people to access banking, credit and many other services to allow them to better run their businesses or open new enterprises.

“A few years ago, a person without assets would have found it impossible to create a credit record. Now, it is understood that their ability to pay has nothing to do with what they own. It’s about how they manage money, with transaction data illustrating long-term user behaviour,” says Thabiso Foto, the Chief Financial Officer, Founders Factory Africa. “We can empower fintechs to solve challenging problems people face on a daily basis, broadening access to a financial system that is not necessarily structured to assist the people who need it most.”

While this year’s conference reaffirmed African leaders’ firm commitment to the continent’s technological advancement, it is clear that more must be done. Governments must work in partnership with the private sector to drive further growth and change.

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