The 21st century has recorded a rising projection in the telecommunications sector and the African continent is not left out of this continuous boom with a good number of indigenous telecoms companies springing up in order to meet the needs of its growing population.
This revolution has permeated both urban and rural communities in Africa in its spread towards globalization. However, there are still some loose ends which have brought forth questions seeking answers for the purpose of growth.
In an exclusive interview with African Leadership Magazine’s Eruke Ojuederie, the Director, African Advantage Telecoms, Magnus Mchunguzi, highlights some of the successes of the telecommunications industry in Africa and suggests some solutions to present challenges. Excerpt:
Having worked in Africa’s telecommunication industry for over 20 years, what will you say are the major successes in the industry?
I would say that the major success in the telecommunication industry is the fact that during this period more than 700 Million people on this continent have been connected to the mobile revolution from a low base of less than 10 Million in 1995 speaks volume and where more than 5-millions of these customers were in South Africa. We have enabled access to basic telecommunication services in rural communities where it took months to send and receive any form of communication between those in the rural and in the cities. Also mobile banking has enabled rural business to flourish and many new services are being enabled as a result.
Competitive politics has taken off as a result of better communication and more people now have access to almost real time information than ever before enabling for issue based politics and questioning of the efficacies of the central government. Tools like whatssap, Facebook, skype are connecting more people at the peripheral of communication than ever before and we are seeing the rise of the internet economies on the African continent and, witnessing the rebirth of intra-African trade due to enhanced communication and labor mobility. We are increasingly ushering in a new breed of African entrepreneur in the ICT sector driven primarily by the communications industry.
What are the downsides of telecommunication in Africa and what approaches can be employed in the sector to achieve desired growth?
For the downsides of this sector I would say Cyber crime, hate speech on a grand scale, malicious character assassination, abuse of the overall system to do harm, are some challenges. Also, there is loss of taxation due to purchasing of goods and service online especially since most of the online companies are foreign.
Other downsides are the cost of access and reaching the final miles of the rural communities; Most owners of the networks are foreign hence we see a lot of repatriation of earnings and the technology is still foreign owned, hence this has great impact on balance of trade as most of the technology has to be purchased wholesome from outside our continent. Enablers for growth– infrastructure sharing (both passive and active); well thought-out regulation in terms of how to allocate scarce resources(frequencies); limiting how many operators of particular services in each operating country(law of diminishing returns) – telecommunications is an expensive endeavors and in order to reach the rural community there needs to be greater incentives either through excellent licensing regime or deliberate targeting of rural development where the majority of Africans live. Hence having too many operators limits their reach and size. Technology transfer must be part and parcel of a collective African Regulatory regime when licensing operators and suppliers. Harmonizing licensing regimes across Africa to enable discussions of handsets and applications that enable intra-Africa trade and within the countries will go to the heart of reducing costs of handsets, technology and infrastructure costs and greater reach will be achieved.
There is this clamor for the sensitization of youths towards Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Africa. What is your take on this?
Firstly, this is a good thing, since we are at the threshold of a new industrial revolution (The Information Era) and Africa cannot afford to miss greater participation in this revolution.
Secondly, this revolution is widespread, if you develop an App today, it has the potential to reach the wide world and be used instantaneously across the global, this new revolution enables one to create an IP that within minutes the whole world has access to it and it therefore makes sense to have our youth partake in this change being wrought by ICT.
Leadership is said to be one of the weaknesses of governance in Africa. As a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative (ALI), how do you think this notion can be turned around and how can we begin to churn our credible and selfless leader?
Africa like many parts of the world, is growing up bit by bit just like a child, we are shading the old order, of the African Big Man and we are inculcating new value system of accountability and new leaders that are questioning the status quo are emerging in civil society, business and politics. The progress might appear to be slow, but initiative like ALI are inculcating new value system in nurturing and propagating new type of African Leaders; “a servant leader” who worries a lot about the well being of the majority in the mold of President Kagame, President Magufuli and President Buhari, but we see a lot of these permeating across the continent.
We have heard of many ways by which the youths can be engaged through entrepreneurship. What in your opinion is the best strategy to achieve youth involvement in entrepreneurship?
Apprentice and mentorship is a key way to achieving youth enthtrepeneuship, but more importantly, we need to change the curriculum of schools, where entrepreneurship is taught as a subject and not expected to land from heaven.
If you look at readily available examples, the Kikiyu in Kenya, the Chaggas in Tanzania, the India communities ensures that their youth are taught the skills of trading and entrepreneurship from an early age, which means this must be the kind of deliberate actions that government, civil society and business must all work jointly in developing across Africa. Particularly, since the continent is experiencing a lot of jobless youth and this might become the tragedy for Africa instead of reaping the youth dividend this might turnout to be the failure for the continent.
YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) is a not-for-profit, global network of young chief executives connected through the shared mission of becoming Better Leaders Through Education and Idea Exchange™. For more information, visit www.ypo.org.