The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, has said the adoption of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain can be a game-changer for the African continent.
Speaking at the 9th edition of the virtual Digital Africa (DA) conference and exhibition 2021, with the theme – ‘Building a New Africa with AI and Blockchain’, he said emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain possess the potential to boost economic growth and industrialization, alleviate poverty and improve people’s lives.
He described African digital economy as one of the largest overlooked investment opportunities of the past decade with potential for profound impact on development, saying driving the impact was a combination of increased access to faster and better internet connectivity, a rapidly expanding urban population, a growing tech talent pool, and a vibrant startup ecosystem.
Pantami referred to e-Conomy Africa 2020, a report released by Google and International Finance Corporation (IFC) which estimates that Africa’s internet economy has the potential to reach 5.2 per cent of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025, contributing nearly $180 billion to its economy with the projected potential contribution reaching $712 billion by 2050.
Saying Africa has the world’s youngest, fastest-growing, and increasingly urbanized workforce, he pointed out that demographics from world experts, coupled with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, which is one major milestone toward harmonization for digital businesses, showed that Africa has the potential to become an active contributor in the unfolding digital revolution.
He contended that Africa’s digital economy was transforming development on the continent by fostering economic opportunities, creating jobs, and providing innovative solutions to complex challenges, including access to health care, education and finance.
The minister pointed out that the use of digital technology and services would drive innovation, economic growth and job creation in many key sectors of the economy, and allow for greater interconnection of African markets with one another and with the rest of the world, expressing strong conviction that promoting digitalization in Africa would enhance our impact in sectors such as health, energy, transport, agriculture, education and facilitate access to basic social services, consistent with our broader good governance and development policies and programmes.
“The stimulation of innovation and the effective harnessing of emerging technologies is central to addressing the African continent’s demands in sustainable development, economic growth. Africa has the opportunity to harness the digital technologies as a key driver of growth and innovation.
“We need to expand broadband infrastructure, provide our citizens with digital skills, and provide the enabling environment for our digital entrepreneurs to thrive, amongst others. It is therefore imperative that we work together towards achieving our national and regional development plans in building the Africa we want,” he further stated.
Pantami said Nigeria’s digital journey would go a long way in developing a digital Africa, pointing out that it had led to the development of many policies by government to facilitate the nation’s quest to a digital economy.
He listed some of government’s effort to facilitate the transition to a digital economy to include the redesignation of the Ministry of Communications as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the subsequent unveiling and launching of a National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for a Digital Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The minister also said the ministry as part of the effort to achieve a digital Nigeria had developed a national policy for the promotion of indigenous content in the Nigerian telecommunication’s sector and a national policy for virtual engagements in federal public institutions, adding the ministry also spearheaded the development of the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (2020-2025).
Earlier in his welcome address, the chairman of Digital Africa, Dr. Evans Woherem, said AI and Blockchain are increasingly affecting lives in many significant ways, adding the meeting was to brainstorm on ways Africa could benefit from the forthcoming revolution created by these invasive technologies.
Speaking on the choice of the technologies, he said while AI has become pervasive to the point of being embedded in almost everything that you can touch and everything that we use, Blockchain technology allows for verification without having to be dependent on third-parties.
He pointed out that AI was becoming the new electricity while Blockchain technology could practically be applied to any industry, either in agriculture, banking, healthcare, education, e-commerce, property, mining, retail, transport and logistics, media and entertainment, automotive among others.
“However, as with all emerging technologies, it is important to consider the societal and policy implications of AI and Blockchain as well as the ways in which diverse populations can be variably impacted by the deployment of these new technologies. This is especially the case for us in the developing countries, where the debate about the productive benefits and societal impact of AI needs to be contextualized within our own social and economic realities,” he stated.
He further said this year’s conference was packaged with so many enriching contents that would benefit participants from different parts of the world attending mostly virtually, some of whom are eminent experts in their fields, respected scholars, CEOs, heads of ministries, and valued industry players.
“Some of the activities listed for this year’s conference are; three keynote presentations, three fireside chats, six panel discussions, product presentations, workshops and parallel exhibition that will be taking place in the exhibition lounges,” he added.