Adaptability of Africa’s ICT in the face of deadly Covid-19 is impressive
By Lucky Masilela
If necessity is the mother of invention, as the old saying goes, then Africa’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) might be among the biggest gainers of the Covid-19 outbreak.
A report on the impact of the pandemic on African economies, published in May by the United Nations (UN), lamented the fact that “the Covid-19 pandemic arrived at a moment when prospects for many African countries were promising”.
Before the first African case was reported on 14 February, it says “Africa was on track to continue its economic expansion, with growth projected to rise from 2.9 percent in 2019 to 3.2 percent in 2020 and 3.5 percent in 2021”.
It is early days yet, but the impact of the pandemic will hurt the growth prospects of most African economies unless steps are taken to adapt to what is commonly called the new normal.
The world economy has demonstrated that certain people, organisations, companies, industries, countries, regions are better suited to the new normal, ie. operating in an environment characterised by social distancing, less international movement and reduced face-to-face interaction.
Some African countries have interestingly been ahead of the curve or at least on par with world leaders in adapting to the new normal, thanks to technology, to solve problems associated with life during the Covid-19 pandemic.
For instance, Oxford Business Group (OBG) has identified Tunisia as Africa’s foremost country where companies invested the most in innovative technology solutions during the crisis. In its Africa CEO Survey, OBG credits the country for its emphasis of science and technology over the years, which positioned it to respond to the pandemic.
Examples include the Tunisian start-up Enova Robotics, whose innovation Veasense is helping Covid-19 patients, allowing medical staff to diagnose remotely. Then there is Enova Robotics’ PGuard, a robotic ground vehicle aiding the enforcement of lockdown rules; and Corona Bot, which provides information and support for individuals via Facebook.
In East Africa, Kenya Alphabet took an idea started in 2013 to another level this month. A partnership with Telkom Kenya, the Loon technology has since launched 35 balloons which remain in constant motion above eastern Africa, availing mobile Internet speeds of up to 4.74 Megabits per second for the uplink and 18.9 for the downlink.
With schools closed for the year in East Africa’s leading economy, faster connection will make life easier for most Kenyans and East Africans, allowing them to interact with the world via e-mail, WhatsApp calls, YouTube and other social media associated with the Internet of Things (IoT).
South Africa also successfully deployed mobile phone technology to conduct contact tracing. Alongside this, was a collaborative initiative that included ICT practitioners in Africa and the world to develop an IT solution to fight the pandemic the “Combat Covid-19 Africa Platform”
At ZA Central Registry (ZACR), we are encouraged by the adaptability of African countries to the Internet of Things, albeit under tragic circumstances. Since surpassing our milestone of 1,250,000 domain names recently our faith in the future of IoT in Africa has been renewed.
Still below 40 percent, Africa is still a long way from matching world average Internet penetration which is approaching 60 percent, according to www.internetworldstats.com.
However, there are encouraging signs that Africa is embracing ICT to reduce poverty, improve the delivery of healthcare and other social services, facilitating innovation across a range of industries such as financial services.
With the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) now imminent, ICT is one lever that could help the continent to boost intra-African trade and further improve its appeal to investors.
ZACR can only celebrate these positive trends and look forward to better times ahead.
Lucky Masilela is the CEO of ZACR.