Connected Summit 2023 to Play Key Role in the Formation of “A Connected Africa”

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Musalia

Kenya’s biggest, government-backed technology event, the Connected Summit officially kicked off today April 3, 2023, bringing together regional and global ICT industry leaders, policymakers, executives, financiers, and innovators to nurture innovative ideas and partnerships that leverage technology to advance Kenya’s development agenda.

The Connected Kenya Summit or simply Connected Summit, now in its 12th year, is jointly organized by the ICT Authority, a body in the Ministry of ICT & Digital Economy, in collaboration with the Private sector and other stakeholders. This year it was sponsored by Soliton Telmec and TESPOK among others. The Summit had a preliminary launch on April 1st and 2nd but was officially opened by Kenya’s Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, alongside the ICT & Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo, PS Eng. John Tanui and State Department of Broadcasting and Telecommunications PS, Prof Edward Kisiang’ani.

Speaking during the launch, Kenya’s Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi said, “This conference is of countless importance to our country and the East African region, because it aligns with two key pillars of the digital superhighway and creative economy. Your work will play a decisive role in the development of “A Connected Africa”. This makes the private sector part of the change agents initiating transformation and introducing a digital philosophy in Africa.  I assure you that H.E The President and the Government of Kenya are committed to providing you with every support required for our partnership delivers in our mandate of uplifting livelihoods. I, therefore, wish you every success in your patriotic and innovative work.”

The Prime CS added that The Connected Summit is important to Africa as Africa presents a variety of economic opportunities in virtually every sector from its youthful population structure, digital transformation and smartphone penetration due to various partnerships including device financing and local assembly plants.

A Connected Africa essentially means a single digital market across Africa with content and services hosted locally, local Africa cell phone connections, local bank clearance and internet access and online communication, healthcare, interconnected to neighboring countries, to regions, and to the entire continent. These will create a single digital market across Africa and also the largest free-trade area in the world.

This is not the first time such an idea has been discussed. The 2023 Dakar Financing Summit held in February by the African Union agreed to build a secured single digital market in Africa by 2030. Like Connected Summit, The 2023 Dakar Financing Summit discussed investments in broadband connectivity, secure data infrastructure, and the governmental and legal reforms to allow people and businesses across Africa to trade seamlessly. 

According to the World Economic Forum, “The global population was expected to reach 8 billion by November 2022 and by 2030, young Africans are expected to constitute 42% of global youth.” Coupled by the declining fertility rates in the Global North, Africa’s youth are therefore the future and several programmes must be reimagined to nurture them. Technology and education are key pillars to helping youths in Africa achieve their dreams and of their government and larger society as there are 10 to 12 million young Africans entering the labour market each year according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

“Out of 600 million young people entering the labour market by 2030, one in three will be a young African. A rethink now on how to better prepare African youth to the Future of Work is thus essential if we are to strategically implement Agenda2063 of the African Union and 2030 Sustainable Development Goals,” announced the ILO, highlighting the need for youth empowerment for the future through quality education, skills development and creation of decent jobs opportunities.

Another report agrees with Africa’s great potential. The Brookings Institution, a public policy think-thank based in Washington, DC spotlighted opportunities for business in Africa and how the businesses can succeed in Africa.

“Africa’s fast-growing population and markets present important opportunities for business in an environment of slowing global growth. At the same time, greater innovation and investment from business is essential to meet Africa’s unfulfilled demand for goods and services, close the gaps in its infrastructure, create jobs, and decrease poverty,” Brookings Institution reported, adding that Africa’s real GDP grew at an average annual rate of 5.4 percent in 2000–2010, driven in nearly equal measures by labor force growth and productivity growth and these is bound to grow even faster with the ongoing continent’s population structure.

Also in attendance at the official launch was Prof Edward Kisiang’ani, the PS, State Department of Broadcasting and Telecommunications.

“It is my vision that the Connected Summit will adopt a permanent stature and become a vibrant showcase for Kenya and beyond borders. I urge us all to showcase Africa’s capabilities, build better cooperation among industry players and open new markets and spur socio-economic development,” Kisiang’ani said. “These ambitions are strongly echoed in Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Area strategic framework which aims to accelerate intra-African trade.”

Future Connected Summits should aim to deliver Next frontier innovations and in lead to a “manifestation of our Pan-African drive for unity, progress and collective prosperity pursued under the African Renaissance.”

The Connected Summit 2023 borrows heavily from the successes of the past summits which have seen initiatives such as IFMIS, eCitizen and Huduma Centers among others. The Connected Summit 2023, which has attracted a number of players from across the East African region, aims to discuss digital economy, government services digitization and the use of data for development, data privacy, and digital trust, the future of work in the digital economy, the position of technology in e-commerce, among others.

However, the expansion across Africa might not an easy one as the Summit has failed to attract more regional support as other governments have their internal masterplans and development targets of their own. Both Uganda and Tanzania have sent their representatives to attend past Connected Summits but the conversation might take longer than expected for a Connected East Africa, and much more for a Connected Africa, but the lessons might be used to achieve the continent’s much-needed unity.

The summit will also focus on collaboration with academia to bring together the academic world and ICT industry stakeholders to address challenges and ICT opportunities in both the public and private sector, share knowledge, expertise and work on innovations that solve the continent’s problems.