It is Africa’s time to lead digital transformation, leaders say at GITEX

GITEX Africa 2023 was officially inaugurated in Marrakech, Morocco

As Africa’s technology and start-up ecosystem continues to attract global attention, the inaugural edition of GITEX Africa kicked off in Morocco yesterday, with emphasis on Africa’s ability to play a leading role in the future of global technology and innovation.

Major tech stakeholders, international government entities, start-ups, youth, academia, and investors from across Africa and the world converged at Marrakech, for the first GITEX to be hosted outside Dubai since its inception 42 years ago.

Running for three days, Africa’s largest and most influential tech and start-up event, is expected to launch Africa into a golden age of digital inclusion, rallying the resilience of a youthful population and elevating tireless governments determined to redraw the boundaries of socio-economic development, organisers say.

“It is an opportunity to shed light on the potentials of Africa and efforts made to develop IT skills and innovation,” said Aziz Akhannouch, Moroccan Head of Government. Citing a 2018 study, which says the Internet can drive up to 5 percent GDP growth, he said African economies are seeing and will continue to see growth as digitalisation and investments increase.

Regardless of where anyone lived in the world, technology was what kept the world going during covid, said Chakib Alj, president, General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises. Technology, he said, can help African economies to grow and one of the most significant opportunities it offers lies in economic growth and job creation.

When digitalisation increased at the peak of covid, as people had to change their ways of doing things, not much hope was had for a place like Africa, yet, as speakers said, the continent has increasingly strengthened its position as a destination for digital skills, and moving from focus on natural resources to young human resources.

Hosting GITEX on African soil is a testament to the commitment to driving the digital revolution on the continent, Lacina Kone, CEO of Smart Africa, like other speakers also said. Smart Africa is an alliance of 37 African countries tasked with Africa’s digital agenda, to accelerate sustainable socio-economic development on the continent and usher Africa into the knowledge economy through affordable access to broadband and the use of ICTs.

“The fact that the event has been brought to Africa is a testament to the continent’s growing global tech and start-up ecosystem,” said Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos state, who also delivered a keynote at the event. He said Africa holds vast potentials in the realm of technology and innovation.

Tech enabled sectors in Africa, as he reiterated, have been seeing unprecedented growth with record levels of investments and expansions.

The Lagos state governor also highlighted the importance of the state to Africa’s technological growth, saying some of the largest data centres are coming to Lagos, which is because the state has been creating an enabling environment for them to grow.

The global audience also got a glimpse into what Sanwo-Olu described as domestication of the national start-up act, which seeks to codify an enabling environment for the tech and start-up ecosystem.

“The Yaba start-up policy will elevate Lagos as a city ready to become a global player,” he said. “In a few years, not only will Africa be supplying the bulk of professionals required (to global IT industry) but will also be creating a lot of jobs.”

“Tech can have a great impact on sectors such as industry, agric healthcare and education,” Alj said. “IOT Can enhance agriculture and food security, which is direly needed on the continent. E-learning platforms can reach students in underserved areas. And the continent’s huge under tapped energy potentials can be used to power industries.”

Even as Africa gains a leading role in the global tech industry, “we can make African talents stay and thrive by creating inclusive viable ecosystems,” he said.

The need to make Africa more attractive for investors was highlighted, as he said governments need to put in place policies that make financing and market entry seamless.

“We are at a turning point in history. Now is the time to unleash the power and creativity of African youths,” he said.

In 2016, Africa recorded its first unicorn, but now there are up to 10 companies worth a billion dollars and more, he noted. This qualitative metric emphasises the growth and importance of Africa when it comes to investments in ideas and technology. “Africa is now the mecca for developers in IT”, Alj said, and GITEX Africa is a platform to show the continent’s skills and advancements in technology.

On his part, Omar Sultan Al Olama, UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, said there is a need to develop and find anticipatory solutions for Africa through Artificial Intelligence.

“Africa has great potential to transform into a global provider of digital solutions, especially driven by its youth population,” he said. This year’s GITEX, he said, “is a platform for start-ups to key into the theme; ‘The time is now’, and make this their time to grow”.

For Kone, CEO of Smart Africa, the evolution of digital entrepreneurship and the economic growth it has stimulated, has been a testament to possibilities on the continent. “Our people are embracing technology in different sectors from agriculture to healthcare, finance and transport. We have seen the resilience of people as they embrace tech to build a better tomorrow but our journey is far from over.”

Africa’s future will be defined by continued innovation, sustainability and ensuring technology never becomes luxury for any group of people, but a source of growth for all.

As more African companies plug into the global innovation system, they will be able to access networks of relationships that are vital for the digital transformation mission of Africa, said Trixie Lohmirmand, CEO, Kaoun International, organiser of GITEX Africa. It will allow African companies to be highly competitive in keeping pace with the rest of the world, she said.

Africa is already fast becoming a provider of digital solutions to the rest of the world. Tech investments are growing compared to other countries of the world and we need to encourage these investments so as to have more unicorn start-ups and medium sized enterprises, Alj, president, General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises, said.

“We need to encourage innovation in promising areas like IoT and cloud computing,” he said. However, transforming the continent into a preferred source of investments for the digital economy envisaged, requires a business climate that encourages investments and provides reliable infrastructure.

Africa, it was said, can also focus on developing talents to tap into the global demand for talents. “As the world talks of a war for talents, we need to emphasise that Africa is endowed with young talents, who are 60% of the population.”

Training this young population and encouraging them to embrace digitalisation, holds the key to the future.

“Together, we can unlock the opportunity that lies within Africa’s digital ecosystem,” Kone said. “Let us embrace collaboration and through collective actions we can tackle challenges ahead. We must also make sure no else is left behind in the digital revolution.”

Source: Business Day