Africa is now banking on smart solutions to resume cross-border trade and kick-start economies badly ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
With health experts warning that the pandemic is likely to remain in our midst for a while, Africa is beginning to seriously look into the kind of technologies that can be adopted in the face of a situation where various aspects of trade and business operations are set to remain contactless for the foreseeable future.
A good number of African countries, just like developed nations, are already preparing their citizens for a future where most business operations will be conducted online.
African Union (AU) is taking the digital initiative having launched a Big Data solution to keep tabs on the spread of Covid-19 as the continent’s economies are increasingly opened after months of choking lockdowns. The aviation sector, which had been virtually paralysed by closure of regional and international borders, has begun operations albeit in a subdued manner.
AU is banking on a new digital platform, PanaBios – a bio-surveillance and bio-screening system – to curb the spread of the disease while ensuring that continental trade continues.
Just before the pandemic broke out, Africa was consolidating its vision of a continent trading more with itself, with more benefits accruing to the citizens.
This goal was captured under Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a project that was beginning to gather steam before the restrictions instituted in the war against Covid-19 started taking their heavy economic toll.
The continent has now opted to be more proactive in looking for ingenious ways to surmount the set of challenges posed by the pandemic. And the solutions, it is turning out, lies in adoption of technologies.
The African Union Commission has joined hands with the private sector to come up with the African Virtual Trade-Diplomacy Platform (AVDP), which is part of the broader AVRIVA (African Virtual Resilient-Integration for a Vibrant Africa) framework being developed under the umbrella of the AfroChampions Initiative.
AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Albert Muchanga says African economies have to inevitably integrate digital solutions in their various facets of their operations in order to weather storms such as those brought by the pandemic.
For the continent to meet the target of rolling out the operationalisation of AfCFTA by January 1, 2021, Mr Muchanga says countries have to work closely with AU in its ambitious digital enterprises.
“This will help to ensure that African countries are able to meet the new date for the start of trading under the AfCFTA of 1st January 2021, as set by Africa Heads of State and Governments who are strongly committed to getting the AfCFTA agenda back on track after the postponement of the start of trading initially set for July 1, 2020,” he says.
The AU commission is optimistic that technological innovations will bolster trade in the region while driving a safe, smart and harmonised reopening process.
“The mandate of the high-level expert committee (of AU) is being broadened to include a review of the various options available to Member States, including digital solutions, which could be used to roll out trade next January,” a statement from the AU reads.
PanaBIOS, which is touted as an important part of the measures aimed at a safe reopening of economies, is already being used in Ghana, where it’s being piloted.
The innovation is being deployed to manage congestion in workplaces and other high-risk locations while enabling digital cross-border travel health clearance to ward off disease importation and transmission.
The platform was launched on July 29 by a consortium under the AU’s Open Corridors Program with support from Pan-African Institutions such as the African Economic Zones Organisation, AfroChampions, the AU Department of Trade and Industry, Koldchain and national government initiatives, with the Ghanaian government’s Trancop programme spearheading the plan.
Ghana began piloting the implementation of the platform in June, said the country’s presidential adviser on health, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, noting that the system is critical in efforts to stop importation of the disease among African countries.
“All cases in Africa were imported and if we are not careful, this easing of businesses could lead to more importation of the virus into Africa,” Dr Nsiah-Asare warns.
The platform is capable of mapping how the virus is spreading, enabling countries to target their response from the position of knowledge and information.PanaBOIS is just one of the arrays of digital systems the continent is banking on to mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic.
Other prominent ones are the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) developed by the Africa CDC, and the African e-commerce platform Sokokuu promoted by AeTrade Group.
Adoption of technology as a means to navigate the storms of the pandemic is expected to quicken the pace of digital transformation of African economies, bringing with it immense benefits such as reduced costs, efficient processes and better quality products as well as services.
In a country like Kenya, technology has been identified as an essential element in enabling the manufacturing sector to increase its share of Gross Domestic Product to the set target of 20 percent from the current 10 percent.
As AU works with governments on the digital agenda, private companies too are increasingly appreciating the potential of technology in transforming their processes and helping to cut out unnecessary fat and wastage.
A recent webinar, whose focus was the future of manufacturing, captured the newfound alacrity by industries to embrace latest technologies, driven in part by challenges brought by Covid-19.
“For a long time, we have been talking about digital transformation. In some business circles it was not well understood, in others it was just ignored. But now we are suddenly seeing people and businesses beginning to develop interest in digital transformation. It has now become a re-ignited topic, one that people are paying attention to and want to explore,” said Deirdre Fryer, Syspro Africa head of solutions and engineering, during the webinar.
This viewpoint was echoed by Mark Walker, associate vice president of IDC, a global provider of market intelligence, who asserts that industries ought to be constantly on the forefront in uptake of cutting-edge technologies.
“New technology paradigms are the key drivers of digital transformation. From an African perspective, manufacturers should embrace next-gen security, cloud computing, Big Data analytics, virtual and augmented reality and Internet of Things,” said Mr Walker at the Webinar, adding that these frontier innovations will be the key determinants of which companies are competitive and thriving, and which ones will be consigned to the graveyard of obsolescence.
Apparently, Covid-19 with all its severe economic consequences has accelerated the pace of technology adoption among businesses, and the benefits will be huge even after the pandemic has been largely contained.
Innovations will begin to be a way of life, an entrenched culture for industries, a move that will make them sustainable and competitive even on the global stage.
While the technological race looks certain to be a key pillar of economic revival and later transformation as Africa aggressively and persistently pursues smart solutions, concerns shift to cybercrime which has been the bane of the adoption of increased e-commerce.
The continent has borne the brunt of cyber criminals who have made away with billions. Last year alone, a whopping USD3.5 billion was lost to hackers, according to IT consultancy firm Serianu.
Aware of such threats, AU has been actively looking to seal loopholes, especially on its e-commerce platforms, that criminals can exploit to siphon funds and data.
“Usually, the motivation for many cyber criminals is the cash being transacted online. If you leave your payment systems open, then they can pounce anytime. It is a wise measure to secure all e-commerce payment gateways,” says Timothy Oriedo, chief executive of Kenyan data analytics firm Predictive Analytics Lab.
According to Serianu, Nigeria is the most vulnerable country on the continent to cyber attackers with losses of USD649 million annually, followed by Kenya with USD295 million and Tanzania USD85 million.
However, the continent will need to forge ahead with the digital agenda as it seeks solutions to rampant cyber insecurity.