Africa Needs Faster, Cheaper, and Expanded Broadband, Says ECA

Addis Ababa  COVID-19 has made one point abundantly clear that African countries need broadband, faster, cheaper, and expanded to the last mile of their populations, according to the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). 

UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Vera Songwe noted the above at a virtual high-level policy dialogue on ‘Leveraging technology in assisting African countries in the fight against COVID-19′.

According to a press release of the commission, the live streamed event organized in collaboration with Ant Financial Services of the Alibaba Group brought together leaders of the Asian tech giant, some African ministers of technology and telecommunication, private sector actors across the continent and innovation/digital economy activists.

During the virtual discussion Songwe said “It is clear that the Novel Coronavirus has led to physical confinement in many parts of the world, but enterprises which leverage the power of digital and innovative technologies continue doing business, in fact – even more business as AntFinancial has demonstrated in offering financial solutions to 10 million additional customers in the midst of the crisis.”

Ant Financial representatives explained on their part that they have so far used digital technology to help businesses boost online trade, build intelligent networks to support agriculture and food  chain delivery, practice online medical consultations, carry out online job search and provide contactless loans to Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs).

Executive Chairman of Ant Financial and Member of the Advisory Board to ECA’s Digital Centre of Excellence, Eric Jing said “we believe that leveraging digital transformation during this crisis will save lives and jobs especially in tourism and related services.”

Guinea Digital Economy, Post and Telecommunications Minister Moustapha Diaby and Togo Digital Economy Minister Cina Lawson agreed that COVID-19 was a “clarion call for Africa to prioritize digital connectivity and governance.”

Minister Diaby, for instance, said tracing the spread ofCOVID-19 in order to flatten the curve in Guinea has proved difficult in the absence of a digital identification system.

AppsTech Inc.CEO, Rebecca Enonchong from Cameroon re-echoed the case for “low tech solutions such as USSD and the SMS which don’t require smart phones” as well as governments’ intervention to reduce the cost of broadband urgently.

She regretted that the big online traffic and hosting platforms such as Google (for Google Play) and Apple (providing Apple Store) have curtailed the ability for African developers to showcase ground breaking solutions that they have nurtured in the effort to tackle the pandemic.

In view of these, panelists emphasized the need forAfrican governments, in synergy with the private sector and civil society, to collaborate on aggregating solutions and avoiding duplication of efforts to fight against COVID-19. 

The dialogue ended with agreement on the need to quickly set up a collaborative platform for immediately helping businesses to sell African products on and beyond the continent in this time of crisis. The panelists agreed to reconvene quickly to act on these recommendations. 

Source: Ethiopia News agency