Kathy Gibson reports from the Better Africa Summit at AfricaCom 2020 – While ICT infrastructure is vital for Africa’s post-pandemic recovery, it won’t achieve anything on its own.

This is the word from Paul Michael Scanlan, chief technology officer of Huawei, who outlines that the issues caused by Covid-19 include financial hardship and unprecedented society changes.

“African countries are particularly under pressure because of the way economy has developed and the way society works together,” he says.

The international Monetary Fund (IMF) indicated that Africa has experienced a massive fall in trading partner growth. “But the good news is that the IMF also sees that GDP will grow dramatically in 2021,” Scanlan says.

In Africa, we have the opportunity of growing the economy rapidly without making the same mistakes of some developed countries, he adds.

“They only way is to look at digitalisation, and most African countries are planning post pandemic recoveries built around digital transformation.”

But the platforms on their own can’t improve the economy. “You have to act. You have to adopt the technology, or nothing will happen.

“Yes, Africa could leapfrog ahead, and the contribution of ICT infrastructure is vital.”

Scanlan explains that while connectivity can improve GDP, adding intelligence accelerates this improvement. “You can pick up 3%, 4% even 5% in GDP points in some sectors.”

The key enablers, he says, are broadband, cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), security and collaboration.

“Without collaboration, nothing will happen. Ecosystems and partnerships are more valuable than ever.”

Scanlan adds that the pandemic has exposed the digital divide, and showed up the challenges that developing countries face.

“It comes down to access to expertise, and reliable connectivity.”

In much of Africa, there is still a lack of digital and ICT infrastructure, and he urges all stakeholders to act quickly to turn this around. “These are solutions that can unlock and boost Africa’s recovery.”

“It is important to invest now in digital inclusion and skills, to drive solutions that will boost economic recovery.

“But you can’t do it with technology alone. We have to demonstrate the real use cases, collaborate and trust one another. We all have the same target: we want to improve the economy, and we have to do it together.

“Mindsets have to change; we have to work together and collaborate.”

With the secrets to jumpstarting the African economy being education, collaboration and trust, Scalan says one of the key challenges is regulatory reform.

“The right policies are a catalyst for digital transformation. For instance, you need spectrum: it needs to be available and inexpensive and the tariff structure needs to be affordable otherwise no one can use it.”

Scanlan’s call to action to government and industry is to open up access, make resources, management and funding available, ensure affordability and rapidly free up spectrum.

“These are the things that will benefit the economy.”