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IT: the lifeblood of Africa’s business innovation

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‘Innovation’ is a word I hear a lot in business these days. Many organisations owe their success to it, while others have realised the importance of inventive thinking and are just getting started with their own forward-thinking projects.

innovation, every organisation approaches the process in its own unique way. But despite such a willingness to stand apart, there is one thing that many firms do have in common – they use cloud for innovation. This is true across the MEA region, and in Africa in particular, the trend has emerged at a time when mobile adoption is also flourishing. This is not just a coincidence, because the two are inextricably linked.

With smartphone usage almost doubling in two years, more brands are in the pockets of more people on the continent. Meanwhile, between 2015 and 2020, monthly mobile data usage is expected to increase from 0.3 GB to 4.3 GB. This is a golden opportunity for Africa’s innovators to capitalise on an expanding, mobile-first audience, but the one thing standing in their way is a challenging IT environment.

Empowerment through IT

Having the ambition to be a disruptor or a creative force in the industry isn’t enough, you need an IT environment that empowers your business to become one. Organisations do realise this, but many are feeling the squeeze of a global economic slowdown. As revenue forecasts are cut, IT budgets inevitably suffer, which makes it much harder for IT leaders to invest in new infrastructure and therefore fund innovation. Yet despite this financial constraint, the demand for ‘third platform’ technologies of big data, analytics, social and mobile doesn’t go away.

Therefore, the question is: how can you deliver on the new IT demands of the business while sticking to a tighter budget? The answer lies in the IT environment itself. When you need to reduce energy costs, spearhead innovation, or do whatever else is demanded, you need to look at transforming the platforms at the heart of your operations. And today, these platforms are most often Linux-based and open source. The first step towards transforming them is to understand exactly what your IT infrastructure is capable of, starting with the hardware.

Given that the IT department is now considered crucial to creating better value for customers, the priorities for your IT infrastructure should be agility, scalability, and availability. Agility gives you the speed to create and launch applications faster than your competitors, while also making you a disruptive force in the market. Scalability enables your infrastructure to grow exponentially, and without causing the efficiencies that cut into profit. Finally, availability guarantees virtually no downtime, so customers are always connected to your products or services.

Source: bizcommunity.com

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Africa speaks

Coronavirus and Societal Inequality- Nonny Ugboma

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Coronavirus image: credit politico

In reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world, there is a huge realisation that  the world has reached a critical juncture and  there is a harsh wake-up call of the impact of in-country inequality both in  advanced and developing nations.

The massive gap between the haves and  have-nots may  have exacerbated  the havoc caused by  the spread of the coronavirus! This means that we can no longer ignore, what is arguably, the worst global crisis–societal inequality.

Interestingly, inequality is not a problem found in the global south alone as it has also been growing in advanced countries like the UK and USA since the 1980s. In the USA in 2018, the total income of the top 10% is 1.8 times more than the total income of the bottom 40%, according to the Palma ratios published in the OECD report on inequality.  The figure for the UK was  1.6 in 2018.

The inequality statistics is even more alarming in the global south with the total income of South Africa’s top 10% being 7 times more than the bottom 40% as at 2015. It will be interesting to know what the 2020 figures would be across the globe.

So, solving the inequality crisis should be governments’ priority in 2021 and beyond. The pandemic has already shown that the state of our collective health can only be as strong as the weakest link– the very low income group – and that this monstrous virus does not care about income brackets or status as everyone is a qualified host.

When it comes to exposure to the virus, the fact is, in addition to front-line health workers, low-income earners are also exposed and are more likely to be transmission vectors because they are key to the provision of essential services as cleaners, cashiers, waiters, couriers, and drivers to name a few.

The bottom line is that we are all vulnerable because these essential members of our society come into contact with people at different levels of society and they are faced with choices that touch every stratum!  For instance, whilst the extremely rich and middle-income professionals are able to take time off, to work from home or self-isolate, the lower income group, usually hourly-paid or zero-hour workers, cannot afford to stay home because without work they will not be paid, and without pay they cannot provide for themselves or their families. The implication is that they are more likely to put themselves and others at risk.

However, we note that the level of devastation of this virus in Sub-Saharan Africa has not been as pundits had expected with these countries’ high poverty rates and poor health systems. Experts are speculating that, paradoxically, it appears that these harsh conditions may have helped insulate the mostly young population from dying from Covid-19. Nevertheless, this does not mean that inequality in Africa is not negatively affecting the transmission in the poorer countries.

On the contrary. Residents of developing countries like Nigeria should be a lot more concerned because they live in extremely connected and linked societies. The more resilient and asymptomatic poor  are often in close contact with the working class and affluent as they are employed as cooks, domestic workers, drivers and artisans. Also, no matter how isolated people keep their domestic workers, they eventually have to come in contact with others in the markets ,the over-crowded public transportation systems or poor housing facilities.

The resultant effect of the inter-connectedness of the different levels of the society is that the elderly, as well as those who lead more insulated lifestyles with various underlying health matters are more vulnerable and more likely to develop serious symptoms and complications. Furthermore, the number of existing public health facilities are not adequate to handle the treatment and private facilities are too expensive thereby resulting in more deaths for this group of the society. 

Therefore, it can no longer be business as usual because the more unequal the society continues to be, the more unsafe it will be for the rich in all aspects! Governments, especially in developing countries, should see this as a wake-up call to rethink policies to address inequality in the long-term,  not just by providing short-term reliefs. Instead of focusing on growth indices, governments would need to work collaboratively with the private sector and other sectors in a mission-oriented approach to build public infrastructure and to ensure the establishment of more inclusive institutions and systems that sustainably create social value.

Author: Nonny Ugboma – Executive Secretary at MTN Foundation

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Africa speaks

Changing the African narrative

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In a recent controversial tweet on the internet, it was argued that Africans have failed to become successful producers except in the area of reproduction. To cement the argument, the writer observed that, while scholars around the world are cracking their heads in an attempt to find the COVID vaccine, Africa is on the sidelines waiting to receive whatever shall be produced and possibly have it freely donated. The statement has some elements of truth which point to the narrative that Africa has created for itself for so many years despite being a continent blessed with an abundance of resources that the entire world longs for.

In fact, Africa suffers from a paradox of plenty in that, despite the huge endowment of both human and natural resources and attaining political independence from colonial masters, it still remains highly underdeveloped. How possible is it that the continent with the most of the worlds’ natural resources, hardworking labour force and favourable climate conditions could have earned the title of being labelled poor and be reduced to beggars than those that have less resources?  The scenario that Africa has created of being rich but not prosperous has presented a paradox whose puzzle needs a careful consideration to spot the missing link to enable Africa retain its rightful title, “The prosperous land of opportunity.”

Free Trade Area

Tired of being considered a third world continent and dependence on the western world on increased trade, African leaders from 44 nations gathered at the African Union Summit in March 2018 and signed a treaty to create what will be considered the world’s largest single market called the Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The aim of this treaty is boost intra-African trade by making Africa a single market of 1.2 billion people and a cumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $3.4 trillion.

Actually the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has estimated that the implementation of this treaty has capacity to increase intra-Africa trade by 52% by 2022 and even double the share of intra-Africa trade in a decade. In addition, the AfCFTA is expected to enhance competitiveness for various firms through the exploration of opportunities for high production, access to larger continental markets and better allocation and usage of resources in the nations.

What is worrying about Africa is the fact that it trades more with countries outside the continent more than among member countries.  The share of exports from Africa with the rest of the world ranged from 80 – 90 percent for the period 2000 to 2017 (Economic Development in Africa Report, 2019) while intra Africa exports averaged only 16.6 percent. Worse still, the report indicates that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest cost to export compared with other regions and this implies the benefits from trade are lessened.  

The question that begs an answer is, why doesn’t Africa trade more with itself? What is puzzling more is the fact that Africa exports materials in their raw form and imports the commodities after they are processed by highly industrialised countries at a higher cost. It is a wonder why Africa is still poor despite being the major supplier of raw materials that are highly demanded around the globe, where does Africa get it wrong? The lack of effective collaboration has been a major hindrance to the progress of Africa.

African countries can develop better if they begin to collaborate in diverse areas of development by each analysing their comparative advantage and combining synergies to achieve a common goal. Industrialisation can best be achieved when the current existing market within the continent is harnessed and tariff policies that increase the cost of trade are dealt with. Africa needs to define what it would want to achieve, identify opportunities within, create policies that harness the potentials from different countries for the benefit of all and work together because a united Africa with concentrated efforts will achieve much than a divided one working in Isolation.

Entitlement syndrome

It is interesting to note the underdevelopment statistics that Africans are ever posting in a bid to get support from developed countries. At times, it seems leaders are competing to show that their countries suffers more and needs more donations but this has created a dependence syndrome that is eventually becoming perpetual. Africa needs to come to terms with the fact that, we are not entitled to the help rendered and the more we act as beggars, the more likely we fail to progress. Whenever negotiating, Africans must never go to the table as beggars but partners in the achievement of common goals.

Africa’s overdependence on the west on basically everything makes it vulnerable to exploitation and thereafter, inability to develop. But to overcome the entitlement syndrome, there is need for the collaboration and efforts of individuals, countries, leaders and basically all who want to see a better Africa. Some of the most accomplished people in developed countries are originally from Africa but have been offered opportunities in these countries and are making an impact. Africa should not think it is the duty of anyone to help it overcome the diverse challenges it suffers but it needs home grown solutions and the contribution of various stakeholders.

The world is currently faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and while others are working to mitigate the impact and create the vaccine, Africa is waiting to receive but what if the west refuses to share with Africa, what is the next step. To change the narrative, Africa needs to realize that no one owes it a living and as such, self-reliance techniques must now be put to practice.

While it is true that Africa is not yet advanced and has challenges to overcome, the sooner it begins to believe in its capabilities to change the narrative and harness its potential, the quicker it shall be to develop. The continent is indeed a force to reckon with but only needs a push which must begin now because it’s time to think and Act Smart.

Aurthor: Nchimunya Muvwende is an Economist

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Africa speaks

2020: A year to remember

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Matthew Odu MA Taxation, FCA

The coronavirus pandemic has infected over 70 million people, has caused over 1.6 million deaths and has subsequently led to the suffering and heartache for billions of people the world over.

From an economic perspective, the once in a century event created a slump not seen since the second world war. The International Monetary Fund estimates the global covid-19 cost at $28trn in 2020 lost output.

The pandemic suffering has also been skewed by race. According to The Economist a 40-year-old Hispanic-American is 12 times more likely to die from covid-19 than a white American of the same age. In Britain, an official inquiry found that racism and discrimination suffered by the country’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic people has contributed to the high death rates from covid-19 in those communities.

A topic that is in need of more attention is the injustice felt by students caused by the covid-19 fallout. The past 12 months have witnessed the most severe disruption to global education systems in history, which during the peak of the crisis – led to more than 1.6 billion learners out of school. The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the pandemic is threatening a loss of learning that may stretch beyond one generation of students. In the global south, school closures are likely to erase decades of progress made by educators.

In Africa, although ed-tech surged during the summer, it wasn’t enough to overturn archaic disparities and make-believe generation next infrastructure. Data suggests that a combined total of just 19 million regular users had access to online education platforms, compared to the at least 450 million children aged 14 or younger that live on the continent.

Fortunately, Covid-19 has not just brought about the need for change, it also points a way forward. Just last week world leaders in education met virtually to help set in motion far-reaching changes to education in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

RewirEdX focused on three main issues in the education sector; youth and future skills, education financing and innovation in education. Leaders driving the change at the event included former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, now the UN’s Special Envoy for Global Education and Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia & Chair, Global Partnership for Education.

Chief amongst the discussion was the vital importance of connectivity in underpinning effective distance learning and so making education accessible to all.

Giving every single African child access to quality education is one of the visions for HESED. A lack of access to quality education and the sluggishness in adopting new methods of learning has immediate and long-term effects that countries on the continent cannot permit to spiral out of control.

Even before Coronavirus struck, education was in crisis but now we have an opportunity to turn things around.

HESED is an initiative and my own personal contribution to providing quality education to Nigerians, as a borderless structure with an unrestricted curriculum. The e-learning platform compliments the current school system by using a national curriculum with the option of studying an international syllabus.
It’s time to rethink education. Let’s give our children a head start in 2021.

By: Matthew Odu MA Taxation, FCA

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