African tech­nol­ogy man­i­festo for the next 20 years

Pretoria News - - BUSINESS REPORT - Wes­ley Diphoko is the founder of Kaya Labs and the chief ex­ec­u­tive for In­fonomist – a data plat­form de­signed to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion that makes a dif­fer­ence. To ac­cess more in­for­ma­tion shared in this col­umn visit: www. in­fonomist.co

THERE was one sig­nal from the ANC con­fer­ence that there’s a great fu­ture for tech­nol­ogy in Africa and that sign was the fact that the ANC pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa used an iPad to read his ac­cep­tance speech. This is partly be­cause his pre­de­ces­sor was read­ing his last speech as the pres­i­dent of the ANC on a printed page. Us­ing tech­nol­ogy from San Fran­cisco will, how­ever, not be enough to cre­ate the Dig­i­tal Africa. The con­ti­nent needs lead­ers with the dig­i­tal mind­set who will lead it into the 4th In­dus­trial Age.

There has never been a bet­ter time for the con­ti­nent to es­tab­lish its own tech­nol­ogy in­fras­truc­ture. 2018 should serve as the be­gin­ning for cre­at­ing an African con­ti­nent that is de­pen­dent on its own tech­nol­ogy plat­forms. As the start­ing point the con­ti­nent should fo­cus on cre­at­ing the fol­low­ing plat­forms start­ing with a data plat­form.

Data

Cur­rently Africa has no con­trol over its own data, partly be­cause most tech­nol­ogy in­fras­truc­ture used on the con­ti­nent has data­bases lo­cated out­side the con­ti­nent. The ab­sence of African data on the con­ti­nent will have a neg­a­tive im­pact and keep it on the back seat of tech­nol­ogy rev­o­lu­tion. Uber is an im­por­tant case study in this re­gard, when one con­sid­ers that traf­fic data col­lected by Uber does not re­side on the con­ti­nent.

In fu­ture when roads are all filled by au­ton­o­mous cars which will be based on traf­fic data col­lected over years, Uber will have con­trol over how African traf­fic moves.

The lead­ers on the con­ti­nent will have to flex their mus­cles to re­gain con­trol of the con­ti­nent’s data as this will im­pact on the eco­nomic fu­ture of the con­ti­nent. One ac­tion that is re­quired is to en­sure that ev­ery­thing that has any­thing to do with the con­ti­nent is stored on lo­cal data­bases. One way of do­ing this would be not to force tech multi­na­tion­als op­er­at­ing on the con­ti­nent, such as Uber to have lo­cal data­bases to store their data as that has zero chances of hap­pen­ing.

This sit­u­a­tion should in­spire a cre­ation of lo­cally based tech­nol­ogy plat­forms that will lo­cate their data within the con­ti­nent.

Data in trans­port is one area of vul­ner­a­bil­ity for the African con­ti­nent, how­ever, there are more ar­eas that will re­quire sim­i­lar in­ter­ven­tion such as ed­u­ca­tion.

Ed­u­ca­tion

South Africa is grap­pling with the ques­tion of ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and the re­al­ity is that so­lu­tions to this chal­lenge can­not be solved by yes­ter­year so­lu­tions. Now that free ed­u­ca­tion is be­ing rolled out, the other re­al­ity is that aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions in their cur­rent brick and mor­tar form can­not pro­vide space for ev­ery qual­i­fy­ing young per­son.

This is one of the rea­sons why tech­nol­ogy can serve as an en­abler for ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion since it is not limited in the same way as brick and mor­tar in­sti­tu­tions.

The chal­lenge, how­ever, is that each aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion is try­ing to cre­ate its own tech­nol­ogy plat­form and this ap­proach is not work­ing. The re­cent chal­lenge with on­line reg­is­tra­tions have proven that tech­nol­ogy in­fras­truc­ture in aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions is not ro­bust enough to meet the in­creased de­mand. Stu­dents have also com­plained about the ex­tent to which poor stu­dents can have ac­cess to in­ter­net in or­der to reg­is­ter on­line.

All these is­sues high­light the need for an in­no­va­tive ap­proach to tech and ed­u­ca­tion. Such an ap­proach should not repli­cate the brick and mor­tar model of ed­u­ca­tion, which is less col­lab­o­ra­tion and more in­di­vid­u­al­ism (eg ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion own­ing its own re­sources).

South Africa needs a sin­gle tech­nol­ogy ed­u­ca­tion plat­form to be shared by all in­sti­tu­tions. Univer­si­ties have tried this ap­proach with their in­ter­net in­fras­truc­ture when they cre­ated the Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­search Net­work of South Africa (Tenet). Cur­rently Tenet pro­vides In­ter­net and re­lated ser­vices to some 170 cam­puses of 55 in­sti­tu­tions. The same ap­proach is re­quired for on­line ser­vices for univer­si­ties.

Health

Ap­ple has re­alised that health data has great value. Its Ap­ple Watch prod­uct and the health app are key ar­se­nals in this re­gard for the com­pany. Ef­forts to im­prove health through data by com­pa­nies such as Ap­ple have to be com­mended, how­ever, lead­ers on the con­ti­nent should un­der­stand that it is ideal for the con­ti­nent to own its health data.

The abil­ity of the con­ti­nent to use Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence for health will be limited if there’s less ac­cess to health data. Health tech­nol­ogy in African health in­sti­tu­tions should have lo­cally based data-cen­tres. As health in­for­ma­tion is ac­ces­si­ble more on­line there will also be an in­creased need for on­line se­cu­rity.

Se­cu­rity

2017 was plagued by se­ri­ous se­cu­rity breaches on­line that had neg­a­tive con­se­quences for busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als. On­line se­cu­rity will con­tinue to be a ma­jor chal­lenge from 2018 go­ing for­ward. The na­ture of se­cu­rity threats will also be fu­elled by coun­tries where ma­jor tech­nol­ogy providers are lo­cated. The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion with on­line se­cu­rity should move the African con­ti­nent to cre­ate its own se­cu­rity sys­tems and lessen its de­pen­dence on se­cu­rity soft­ware cre­ated else­where as this some­times is used for ul­te­rior mo­tives.

In 2017, the United King­dom gov­ern­ment banned Karper­sky Lab soft­ware which was used for se­cu­rity as it was sus­pected of be­ing used for spy­ing. The choice of tech­nol­ogy used by gov­ern­ments will be­come more im­por­tant as more and more gov­ern­ments use tech­nol­ogy for ser­vice de­liv­ery.

Gov­ern­ment ser­vices

The Home Af­fairs Depart­ment in South Africa to­gether with South African Rev­enue Ser­vices e-fil­ing have shown what is pos­si­ble when tech­nol­ogy is ap­plied for gov­ern­ment ser­vices.

There’s, how­ever, a need for more gov­ern­ment ser­vices to use more tech­nol­ogy to en­able cit­i­zens to have bet­ter ac­cess to gov­ern­ment ser­vices. It should be the goal of each African coun­try to do away with queues. It should be pos­si­ble for peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas to ac­cess gov­ern­ment ser­vices within their com­mu­ni­ties. It should not be nec­es­sary for peo­ple to travel long dis­tances to ac­cess ba­sic gov­ern­ment ser­vices.

The In­fonomist will be on the look­out for African gov­ern­ments that are pi­o­neer­ing e-gov­ern­ment ser­vices es­pe­cially those that use tech­nol­ogy for de­cid­ing its lead­er­ship dur­ing elec­tion periods.

Elec­tions

Elec­tions on the African con­ti­nent have been the source of con­flict for many years. This has been partly be­cause of poor elec­tion sys­tems that are used. Even in South Africa the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (IEC) has re­cently faced chal­lenges. There’s a com­mon fac­tor in all ar­eas where chal­lenges are ex­pe­ri­enced, tech­nol­ogy has been the main weak-point.

Re­cently even coun­tries be­yond the African con­ti­nent have faced in­ter­fer­ence by other coun­tries. The con­ti­nent should work to­wards cre­at­ing its own elec­toral tech­nol­ogy sys­tems to avoid po­ten­tial con­flicts and in­ter­fer­ences. Tech­nol­ogy will not only be re­quired for se­ri­ous gov­er­nance mat­ters but also for en­abling eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in ar­eas such as mu­sic and fash­ion.

Mu­sic

Nige­ria has demon­strated that it is pos­si­ble to cre­ate an econ­omy out of lo­cal art through the Nol­ly­wood con­cept. Cur­rently the African con­ti­nent lacks a mu­sic plat­form with the same power as iTunes and other mu­sic plat­forms for lo­cal mu­sic.

This is an area that re­quires se­ri­ous at­ten­tion to en­able lo­cal mu­si­cians to have a plat­form for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and to show­case their art. Mu­sic is not the only art form that re­quires tech­nol­ogy in­ter­ven­tion, but African fash­ion is ripe for tech­nol­ogy in­ter­ven­tion.

Fash­ion

There’s a con­ver­gence be­tween tech­nol­ogy and fash­ion that is cur­rently un­der way. The miss­ing part to this de­vel­op­ment is the in­fu­sion of African fash­ion. There’s a need for African fash­ion de­sign­ers to in­fuse tech­nol­ogy into their art by cre­at­ing wear­ables that em­brace African tech­nol­ogy.

Trans­port

The African con­ti­nent has a vi­brant and strong trans­port econ­omy largely led by the minibus taxi in­dus­try. This in­dus­try can learn a lot from the Uber ap­proach to trans­porta­tion. More im­por­tantly there’s also a need for the minibus taxi in­dus­try to take own­er­ship of the tech­nol­ogy that will power trans­porta­tion on the African con­ti­nent. Cur­rently there’s a big gap in this space.

Peo­ple

The peo­ple of Africa are the most im­por­tant of all re­sources that will make it pos­si­ble for the African con­ti­nent to take the front seat dur­ing the 4th In­dus­trial Age. Cur­rently, most young peo­ple lack the nec­es­sary skills re­quired to cre­ate the kind of dig­i­tal fu­ture that Africa needs.

The cur­rent lack of such re­sources should lead a mas­sive cam­paign to­wards train­ing young peo­ple in real dig­i­tal skills that truly mat­ter. In this re­gard the African lead­ers should be care­ful of be­ing con­fused by dig­i­tal skills pro­grammes led by en­ti­ties such as Google that ap­pear to be solv­ing the skills prob­lem on the con­ti­nent. The African con­ti­nent needs its In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy that will cre­ate lead­ers in the African tech­nol­ogy space.

Twenty years down the line African lead­ers should look back to 2018 as the year that be­gan a tech­nol­ogy rev­o­lu­tion on the con­ti­nent. It should be­come a pe­riod in which Africa be­gan to cre­ate its own tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions to its chal­lenges.

The In­fonomist will through­out the year 2018 doc­u­ment im­por­tant tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ments on the con­ti­nent through its own on­line in­for­ma­tion plat­form on – www.in­fonomist.co

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