File picture: Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP
File picture: Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP

Tunisia shows how we should be innovating

By Opinion Time of article published Jul 26, 2020

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Victor Kgomoeswana

Even while battling political turmoil within the ruling coalition, Tunisia has come out tops in its adaptability to the Covid-19 outbreak.

British research publishing firm, the Oxford Business Group (OBG), gave the country a lot of credit in its report, “Tunisia Covid-19 Response Report”, conducted in collaboration with the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency.

It should make several countries, particularly African, double their efforts to build and implement a fit-for-purpose technology and innovation policy framework.

OBG tracks Covid-19’s economic impact on countries across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. It studies what actions governments and private businesses are taking to minimise the damage.

The report on the north African country quotes stats from the National Institute of Statistics, which show that exports fell 23.8% in the first five months of the year due to a wholesale drop in exports.

However, the OBG report identifies Tunisia’s vibrant start-up activity since the passing of the Start-up Act of April 2018, labelling it the “centrepiece of the Tunisia Digital 2020 strategy, which comprises 64 predominantly public-private partnerships that aim to develop technological infrastructure and boost socio-economic development”.

Since the Act came into effect in January last year, 169 companies have registered as start-ups. These are no ordinary start-ups; and Tunisia is no ordinary country. Before the Act, it was a leader in the creation of an enabling information and communications technology (ICT), raising its internet penetration from 13% (2006) to 66% last year, according to www.internetworldstats.com. Compare that to South Africa’s 55% and Kenya’s 87%, and it is clear why OBG expects the Tunisian economy to recover faster from Covid-19 than others.

Investing in ICT means better schools, health-care institutions and other social service agencies to deliver solutions to the majority for less.

In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the closure of public schools for four weeks. Kenya closed them for the year. Come next year, school children in Kenyan could be ahead of their South African counterparts, because online learning is more accessible and cheaper for them.

Tunisia, OBG says, “demonstrated exceptional digital abilities, (and) many of its African peers have identified Tunisia as a cradle of innovation during the crisis”.

The report singles out start-up Enova Robotics. Its robot, Veasense, has been deployed safely to help Covid-19 patients, conducting preliminary diagnoses and monitoring patients without physical contact. Another innovative acquisition by the government of Tunisia is Enova Robotics; P-Guard, a robotic ground vehicle enforcing the lockdown rules by remote control.

How about Corona Bot, a digital app that gives information and support for people via the Facebook channel! Instead of using Facebook to spread fake news and sow panic, Tunisians are putting it to good use.

These are not costly or complicated solutions. They simply require focus, forward thinking and adaptability. Once again, South Africa can learn a great deal from fellow African countries. It is never too late.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

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