Underlining the importance of technology and telecommunications on the African continent, the world’s largest Africa-focused tech and telecoms event sees exponential growth

Africa Tech Festival 2021 (including anchor events AfricaCom and AfricaTech), welcomed more than 20,000 registered delegates to its virtual platform last week. This record number of delegates for an online event of this nature, represent a cross-section of more than 8 000 companies. This year the festival had a core focus on sustainability and green ICT, with these underlying themes speaking to the global need to secure the planet’s future, and not just the future of its inhabitants.

The festival’s virtual platform also hosted an incredible uptake of engagement among delegates to this premier, Africa-focused Tech event, with more than 14 000 messages being exchanged on the platform between its global participants.  Networking is a key component of both the live event, which usually takes place in Cape Town, as well as the virtual version. Networking is key to finding sustainable business solutions for the developing continent.

More than 153 countries were represented at this year’s event, which sees 98% of countries on the African continent also in attendance.

Day One’s agenda was centred around Green ICT and creating sustainability across the continent, with hot topics including leveraging sustainability as a profitability driver (Tracy Bolton, SAP Africa) and building a sustainably powered continent (Dr Liangzhou Fang, Huawei Digital Power Technologies).

Solar energy, the pursuit of zero carbon and exploring green investment models were also in focus.  An engaging panel discussion titled ‘The Gigawatt Gap’, unpacked the importance of creating African data centre ecosystems that are 4IR-ready – and green.

Day two was filled with an exciting mix of content, ranging from the growth of women in ICT, the importance of sustainable partnerships and the future of IoT, including technology’s growing importance to bridge every aspect of every industry.  A presentation by Microsoft SA’s CTO, Ravi Bhat, titled Towards 2030: Transformative technologies shaping Africa’s next decade, also spoke to this theme.

Tuesday also tackled the cost of bringing the African continent up to scratch in terms of its green credentials, and the requirement for the continent to invest in renewable energy sources.  Several key presentations and panel discussions are on the Africa Tech Festival platform for review.  The platform will be accessible for registered delegates for 90 days after the event – end of February 2022.

Headliners who have addressed the congress this year include the likes of:

  • Todd Ashton (Ericsson)
  • Razvan Ungureanu (Airtel Africa)
  • Mark Victor (Deloitte)
  • Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr (Republic of Sierra Leone)
  • Douglas Baguma (Innovex)
  • Ahmed Badr (International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA)
  • Fadi Pharaon (Ericsson)
  • Paul Michael Scanlan (Huawei)
  • Alioune Ndiaye (Orange)
  • Cathy Smith (SAP)
  • Roy Henderson (Green Cell Technologies)
  • Mahlatse Mashua (Kolisi Foundation)
  • Victoria Nxumalo (Girls In STEM Trust)
  • Temwani Simwaka (Standard Bank Limited)
  • Nozipho T Duma (FNB South Africa)

Another key focus were discussions that looked to define the telco of tomorrow – their evolution and their continued relevance in the ever-connected world.  GSMA’s latest statistics on 5G coverage show that Only 0.4% of sub-Saharan Africa is covered by 5G network, compared to 17% globally. Africa is especially far behind North America, with 76% coverage. This lag presents both challenge and opportunity for the continent’s communication providers.

However, perhaps one of the most important topics to capture the attention of all delegates, is the rapidly expanding influence, development, and deployment of Blockchain and crypto-currencies, and how this technology innovation is motivating the evolution of the finance space.

Also, on the line-up was a look at Africa’s role as an experimental fintech project, and education 4.0, education that is vital to grow the workforce of the future. “If the school connectivity gap is not addressed, the digital gap will continue to widen – between the advantaged & connected, and the disadvantaged & disconnected.  And more broadly, research by Ericsson & The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) has found that a 10% increase in school connectivity = 1.1% increase in GDP per capita,” commented Fadi Pharaon, President, Middle East & Africa – Ericsson.

Further, affordable broadband and digital access across Africa, the growth of Agritech and, of course, the development of cyber security systems to counteract current and future online and network threats.

The festival continued its support in promoting the growth of women in technology, with the accelerateHER Africa platform once again hosting a series of thought-provoking discussions on the digital divide between the genders, what needs to happen to bridge the gap, as well as how women’s contributions can benefit the entire continent.

The importance of empowering women in the Tech industry stretches far beyond pure morality, as it is an industry fact that, if women could achieve parity with their male counterparts, then Africa’s eCommerce space could grow to around $14.5 billion. The question that will feature in many of the fireside chats and panel discussions is how to incentivise both the private and public sectors to invest in the growth of women in tech?

Thursday and Friday presented delegates with a broad cross section of panel discussions and fireside chats, in addition to presentations by a diverse range of speakers representing African and multinational corporations and organisations.

Some of those on the line-up included:

  • H.E Huria Ali Mahdi (Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Ministry of Innovation and Technology)
  • Miriam Altman (University of Johannesburg)
  • Bill Wang (Huawei)
  • Tim Andrews (Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator
  • Jacqueline Shi (Huawei Cloud)
  • Dorsaf Bejaoui (Tunisie Telecom)
  • Devorah West (Tony Blair Institute for Global Change)
  • Ahmer Arsalan (STL)
  • Jan Pilbauer (BankservAfrica)
  • Mukelani Kheswa (Africa Teen Geeks)
  • Dr Bello Moussa (Huawei Southern Africa)
  • Tide Xu (Huawei)
  • Catherine Holloway (Global Disability Innovation Hub)
  •  Lee Maina (Huawei)
  • Alexandra Fraser (Viridian)
  • Jisas Lemasagarai (GSMA)
  • Alastair Long (Department for International Trade).

Whilst Friday, 12 November, included:

·         Ibrahim Eldeftar (Ericsson Middle East & Africa)

·         Eva Andrén (Ericsson Middle East & Africa)

·         Nitesh Singh (Accenture South Africa)

·         Harrison Byrnes (AgUnity).

As always, underpinning tomorrow’s growth and economy, are the string of entrepreneurs and start-ups who are part of the future tech generation and opportunity providers.  Sage words of advice fromOnajite Emerhor, Head of Google Start-ups Africa reminded delegates of the golden rule around starting a new business, by saying: “You should fail. If you aren’t failing it means you haven’t tried. The best advice I can give you is fail as quickly as you can, quite early in your career so you can have time to pivot and to grow”

Summing up the mood of the event, and a reminder as to why the world’s largest and most influential Africa-focused technology and Telecoms event was once again virtual, Emmanuel Lubanzadio, Head of Public Policy for Sub-Saharan Africa, Twitter said: “If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that nothing can be achieved in isolation but rather in collaboration.”

Connectivity, community, and consensus are all key elements of a collaborative world.  These premises will be unpacked at the 2022 Africa Tech Festival, which celebrating its 25th anniversary and this brave new world we now find ourselves navigating, will be held live and in person in Cape Town, South Africa 07 – 11 November.

This article first appeared on The South African Times.