As part of Financial and Private Sector Development week, infoDev and the Africa Finance & Sector Development Front Office hosted a session on the future role of ICT in Africa. The session was moderated by Valerie D'Costa, infoDev program manager, and included an expert panel of speakers. We were joined by:
- Mouhamet Diop, Chairman and CEO, Kheweul.com; CEO, NEXT SA, Senegal
- Javier Ewing, Managing Director, Excelsior Firm, East Africa
- David Kaplan, Professor of Business-Government Relations and Economics, University of Cape Town, South Africa
- Bright Simons, Founder, mPedigree, Ghana
Each of the panelists addressed African business from the angles of competitiveness, productivity, exportation readiness, and the transformative effect of ICTs, each using their own unique perspectives and examples from their respective countries.
Professor David Kaplan, from the University of Cape Town, began the panel by exploring the realities of technology acquisition and absorption on the continent and emphasizing the challenges for ICT businesses in Africa, such as the constraints to attract foreign direct investment, the shortage of skills, and the R&D capacity of firms.
Javier Ewing, of the Excelsior Firm, used findings from infoDev's and DFID's Transforming the East African ICT Sector by Creating a Business Engine for SMEs report to focus on the challenges faced by ICT businesses in Africa. Shortage of business skills, access to financial resources, access to markets, access to technical skills, and access to business networks were discussed as the main challenges to overcome using a supportive business environment.
The African entrepreneurs present reflected on the issues raised and shared their own experiences of doing business in Africa. Bright Simmons gave a fascinating look at the potential of ICTs as a business enabler and as a tool to overcome marketplace challenges by offering the model he created for his company, mPedigree. His concept brought together mobile firms, the pharmaceutical industry and HP in an efficient partnership that has improved pharmaceutical safety and public health in Ghana. Mouhamet Diop echoed his peer's experience by underlining the transformative power of ICTs on businesses by taking the example of the music industry in Senegal.