Africa Tech Festival 2022

The festival was officially opened by James Williams, Director, Events, Informa Tech, who remarked that: “During these 25 years, the event has evolved to ensure we remain the continent’s largest and most influential tech event and to tell the story of continued growth and frontier technologies, and how African innovation is tackling some of the globe’s biggest challenges.

“AfricaCom and AfricaTech came together as a festival in 2018 and continue to explore connectivity, infrastructure, and telco evolution. And with this evolution to a festival, we’ve also worked this year, more than any other, to integrate some of the stories around culture, sport, music, and entertainment that make the continent such a diverse and unique place to work.”

Adding to Williams’ comments on the growth of the event and its legacy, and officially welcoming delegates to the 2022 event, Deputy Minister of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, Republic of South Africa, the Hon Mr Philly Mapulane, remarked on the value of the event’s capacity for bringing people together and encouraging tech investment in South Africa and the region.

Unpacking Africa’s history of technology and its bright future, Russell Southwood, Balancing Act shared a keynote, saying “… fantastic things have happened to Africa, because of the investment in technology over the last 35 years…we now have networks, we now understand what needs to be done. And the next, however many 20 or 30, 40 or 50 years is going to be really interesting, because when they write a new history of Africa, when it’s completely changed, and very different, they will say it started here.”

Africa Tech Festival is a hub for business and in one of the first deals to be signed during the event, the European Investment Bank concluded a USD10million agreement with Bandwidth and Cloud Services Group (BCS), backing the roll out of eastern DRC telecom connectivity. The deal is the first EIB Global quasi-equity investment and will back expansion of fibre-optic network to 2.5 million people, as well as provide high-speed connectivity to 319 schools and 70 hospitals. This will fund 1250km of fibre infrastructure out of the 20 000kms BCS is looking to build over the next three years in Eastern, Southern, and central Africa.

Reaffirming its commitment to helping Africa digitise its economy, Leo Chen, Huawei president of the southern Africa region, emphasised the three major elements of digital transformation: digital infrastructure, digital services, and digital skills.  “If we do these three things well, we can connect the unconnected people and businesses, fully unleash digital productivity and develop the digital economy, no matter what its definition is,” he said.  Mr Leo also shared data that shows how the digital economy in sub-Saharan Africa, is growing faster than the region’s GDP.

On the topic of investment and creating the right climates for this to occur, Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis shared a keynote speech with delegates around ‘This is Cape Town – Building Africa’s Innovation & Investment Hub.’  Acknowledging the role that regulatory frameworks and government participation play in driving progress, Hill-Lews said: “Digital transformation in our government not only leads to new opportunities for economic growth and job creation, but also improves the functioning of government to the benefit of all of our residents.”

Fadi Pharaon, Ericsson shared mobility trends that the company has seen of late key of which, has been the rapid uptake of 4G across the territory, with sub-Sahara reporting a staggering 26% increase alone.  4G devices have also made a giant leap forward, in many instances surpassing the number of 3G devices, this is thanks in part to lower prices of entry level mobile models but also the growing market for refurbished smartphones.  Pharaon also noted that: “another enabler which will accelerate 4G adoption, are regulatory initiatives to make more spectrum available for key markets. Now we all know that this is the foundation of the telecoms industry.”

Answering the question of what it means for government to be committed to the tech sector success, Cape Town’s Executive Mayor explained that: “For us in the city this involves building an enabling environment first and foremost. Our job is to ensure that the conditions for your success as tech businesses and investors and innovators and creators are present, not to try to intervene to make your success happen on your behalf.”

Africa Tech Festival is a confluence of enterprise and the all-important start-up sector, and the AHUB, which has grown in prominence and scale over the last few years, was no exception today.  Tomiwa Aladekomo, Tech Cabal Media, and Chair of the AHUB Start-up stage, observed how: “Start-ups have provided some of the most important economic growth, foreign direct investment, and job opportunities across the continent over the last few years. Today, there is a global recession that is challenging some of the fastest growing tech companies globally and that challenge is also affecting the capital available for African start-ups to grow. It’s a challenging period, but start-ups will remain a critical growth engine.”

Delegates were treated to insights from Philip Kiracofe, CEO of Startupbootcamp AfriTech on supporting start-ups to foster innovation, and Theran Knighton-Fitt, Co-Founder and Chief Humanising Officer · Mygrow, regarding how culture, properly harnessed can make a start-up more human and more innovative.  Also, on the billing today at AHUB, were several speakers sharing where venture and funding for start-ups is in Africa today.

Critical to the advancement of digital across the continent, is citizen trust in the channels that are on offer to them.  Tuesday at Africa Tech Festival, there were several key sessions that spoke to the growing need for cybersecurity measures.  Commenting on how we need to operate along the lines of “trusting nothing and verifying everything” with a growing automation, AI, and machine-led influence on everything we do, Alan de Waal-Smit from ITR Technology shared how an integrated approach to IT systems and management would be required to create a zero-trust architecture, that would also attract consumer confidence.

Affordable access, is of course, a continuous theme with every discussion that involves the digitisation of Africa.  A rousing panel discussion, entitled: ‘Empowering Africa’s Connectivity Champions to bridge the digital divide’ was well attended, with panellists noting that whilst Government was essential to kick start provide the framework, it was also down to the private sector to make it sustainable.

Speaking to the need for every user in Africa to have the power of computing in their hands, Mariam Abdullahi, Director, Android Partnerships, Africa at Google said: “It is not a matter of just giving the power of computing to everyone.  You’ve got to give them secure, reliable, delightful services to use in then most affordable way.”

Also on the AfricaCom Centre Stage, Pfiona Okumu, Head of Music sub-Sahara Africa, Spotify, took the conversation forward on digital entertainment, sharing how Spotify has at least 10,000 songs uploaded every day. “It’s almost perfect democratization of the arts, which is essential as there’s so much talent out there.”

Speaking to parity in the digital arts, and the use of algorithms to address disparity, Okumu also remarked, “we are very proactive with our programming to make sure women artists are represented. So we over-index to make sure that happens, so if you listen to women artists frequently, the more you listen to female artists, the more they will be served to you. So you get to discover even more. That’s one of the ways we can use tech to actively push listening habits to make sure that they’re inclusive. Let’s just make sure that marginalized creators have an equal shake at the stick.”

The conference and exhibition attracted a record number 25 000 registrations this year, marking the importance these two sectors continue to have, and will have, on moving Africa forward.

The event’s ability to attract decision makers, innovators, policy makers from around the world, is due to the broad and essential content on offer and the influence the telecoms and technology sectors have on the world at large.  

The Connectivity Hall is a showcase for next gen developments in communications infrastructure, devices and instruments that make the technology on show in the Africa tech arena, possible. 

Panel discussions, fireside chats, workshops, headlining keynote speeches and presentations over the three days have portrayed a vibrant, exciting, and capable continent that is embracing digital parity and, from whom the so-called ‘developed world’ can learn lessons.  

The physical return of Africa Tech Festival, after its two-year enforced hiatus because of COVID-19, has been met this week with enthusiasm and aside from the increased foot fall, the increased networking between companies and individuals has yielded many successes.

A quote from transformation agent, Dhiresh Surajpal, Head of Strategic Partnerships | Telecoms | Africa | EMEA Partnership Solutions, encapsulates the expected impact of the creative digital economy on the continent, saying: “African stories will find impact and scale through two key elements: The right Digital Platform – one that offers commercial sustainability & support while our creators grow, and 2, pan-African industry partnerships, like our Telcos, who together with our digital platforms, will catalyse access demand and drive local content relevance.”

Key concepts and talking points that arose of the past three-days include discussions on women empowerment in the sector, sustainability, and green energy – what the ICT sector and IoT will need to power it but how planet friendly it needs to be.  Key to everything, is the infrastructure required to roll-out the communications frameworks that will be necessary to connect the African people to one another, the world and vice versa.

No discussion on digital is complete without the mention of FinTech – access to finance and the means to include more people in the economy to overcome socio-economic disparity – as well as the growing importance of implementing measures to safeguard personal information, as cybercrime runs parallel with the growth in connectivity.  On this point, Dr. R. Tombari Sibe, CEO/Lead Forensic Examiner at Digital Footprints Nigeria Ltd shared a sobering fact released by INTERPOL, that more than 61% of businesses in Africa were affected by Ransomware. “Africa has seen a lot of growth in IT Adoption, increased internet penetration, and increased tele-density. This growth has also come with emerging threats; two of which were discussed in this session – ransomware and cyber extortion.”

This point is further underlined by David Lotfi of Evina who emphasised that the mobile payment business in Africa is the hottest market in the world today and is set to pass the $12,000-billion-dollar mark in 2026. “Its market performances are four times higher than the rest of the banking world, as credit cards are being ditched for the mobile phone, which is why mobile payment is the biggest opportunity for telcos by far,” said Lotfi. However, he cautioned that in Africa fraud is a huge threat to the growth of this market because when fraud occurs around 20% of people affected will no longer use that service, with the ripple effect through to their friends and family having the potential to destroy the future of mobile money in Africa.  

“If you want to have more and more users then you have to have a very smooth customer journey that is also very efficient,” he added.

Fresh perspective

The talk of collaboration and partnerships has been strong in the industry over the past few years and none more so than in 2022 at Africa Tech Festival.  Siyabonga Mahlangu, Telkom remarked that: “The new world is a world of partnerships, and there are partnerships not only between suppliers and telcos or partnerships with customers or channels, but also partnerships across sectors. So now you have to think more broadly and have to be open that the thinking is much more about what you can do together, rather than you issuing an RFP.”

Echoing Mahlangu, Dejan Kastelic, Group Chief Technology Officer at Vodacom said: “I also believe that the next wave for telcos is all about partnerships, and in different forms. One form would be when you have so many plans, but you cannot do everything by yourself. So, then you have to search for partners as you don’t have either the cash or the capability to do the entire project on your own.”  Kastelic confirmed Vodacom is actively researching partners to build fibre across the footprint of Africa.

Summing up the events of the past week, James Williams, Event Director, at Informa Tech, organisers of Africa Tech Festival said: “We know that the world has changed and that business as usual is no longer. However better business is possible, and we have witnessed that here this week.  It has been exceptionally busy, and the feedback we have had from delegates, speakers, exhibitors has reaffirmed our commitment to continue growing the event in the years to come, including emphasising the growing importance of Africa’s entrepreneurs and start-up sector.

“I know I speak for all my colleagues when I say, that is has been wonderful to be back in Cape Town and to experience the positive energy that has happened here this week across the show floors.  We look forward to returning in 2023, with yet more in-depth content and possibilities for Africa’s digital transformation into a connected powerhouse.”

The headline keynotes for the 2022 event, will remain accessible on the Informa Tech app for all registered delegates and media. The app can be found in all app stores.

Dates for the 2023 event have been confirmed as being 14 to 16 November 2023.

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