Cameroon Minister urges experts to render big data profitable for Africa

“By 2030, revenues generated by big data in Africa will reach 10 billion dollars, but how much of this will stay in Africa, how many of our youths will play a leading role in the creation of this wealth as a function of their skills and to what extent will the big data economy transform our private sectors and productivity” quizzed Cameroon’s Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Minette Libom Li Likeng today as she opened a two-day continental meeting on these issues, convened in Yaounde, by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

The Minister’s reference to that statistic from BearingPoint (itself a non-African multinational management and technology consulting firm) brought into focus the pertinence of the ExpertGroup Meeting on Fostering African Private Sector in the Big Data Era which is being attended by Africa’s big and small players in the game.

They include: policymakers, ICT and private sector experts and start-ups, representatives of regional economic communities and intergovernmental organizations, representatives of regional and international organizations; telecommunications practitioners, civil society actors, academics and researchers.  

Based on their recognized expertise, participants are tasked with reviewing an issue paper on the place and future of big data within Africa’s private sector in view of:

  1. a)     Exploring the potential of big data in accelerating innovation for the socio-economic development of the continent
  2. b)    Assessing the current status and challenges in the development of Big Data in Africa
  3. c)     Providing policy recommendations for consideration by African policy, and decision-makers for the development of the private sector in realizing the big data opportunities for Africa’s transformation and meeting the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Noting that the data revolution which is linked to the 4th industrial revolution has given rise to a highly transformational global digital economy, Minister Li Likeng regretted that Africa, especially its private sector, faces three major challenges with regard to big data which she considers “indispensable infrastructure for our economies.”

First, is the challenge of access to ICT infrastructure; second is inadequate capacity to analyze the huge amounts of data being churned out; third is the issue of trust in the digital ecosystem.  These, she said, make it difficult for African firms to take advantage of data which reveals information on potential risks and makes it easy to conquer various client segments.

“However the more worrying issue is not lateness in the rhythm of adoption but lack of preparedness” she observed, citing a study which reveals that only 24% of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) on the continent are preparing big data strategies as against 43% of Very Small Business (VSB).

One of the experts, Dr. Jimson Olufuye, CEO of Kontemporary Konsulting Ltd and Founder of Africa ICT Alliance, opined that Africa has to “focus on the low hanging fruits – things that we can easily do to transform our governing structures and guide the private sector on the production and appropriation of Big Data”.

To Mr. Kennedy F. Tumenta, CEO of the African Business Information Bank, “we must create an African structure to collect, mine and transform big data as well as a pan-African structure to pose as a global big data giant.”

This is what Mr. Blaise Azitem Ina, Adviser to the Minister of ICTs and Digital Economy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, termed “appropriating our very own big data infrastructure as a matter of sovereignty.”

While some experts insisted on revolutionary training of Africa’s youth in data science, others raised the primacy of integrating pieces of physical infrastructure for data transmission between African countries, notably by linking up optical fiber networks.

Mr. Adama Coulibaly, Head of the Subregional Initiatives Section of ECA’s Subregional Office for Central Africa, who represented the Office’s Director, said “it is necessary for African countries to master the stakes of Big Data in order to tame and profit from it while guaranteeing the quality of information produced, by optimizing data processing, linking all the information-based trades and ensuring the data security” on the continent.

On his part, Mr. Mactar Seck of the Green Economy and Technology Section within the Technology, Climate Change and Natural resources Division (TCND) of ECA highlighted the importance of the role of African private sector in big data era. He gave context to the activity of the ECA Digital Center for Excellence on Digital ID, Digital Trade and Digital Economy and promised participants a very engaging session as he praised the leadership of Cameroon for being resolutely engaged in a digital transition plan, with the technical assistance of the Commission.

The ExpertGroup Meeting on Fostering African Private Sector in the Big Data Era will precede the 2019 Annual Africa Regional Review of the implementation of priorities of the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) ahead of the 2020 Forum of the Summit known as WSIS + 15 next April in Geneva.

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