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Vodafone urges Africa to invest in digital infrastructure

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Nick Read, Vodafone Group CEO.
Nick Read, Vodafone Group CEO.

Digital infrastructure and services are the key engine of growth and a catalyst for economic prosperity and improving the lives for all Africans, says Nick Read, Vodafone Group CEO.

Addressing the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, Read said Vodafone is ready to engage in a constructive dialogue and partnership with governments on how to ensure enabling, stable and pro-investment regulatory and taxation frameworks for digital society.

“They [digital infrastructure and services] offer the opportunity to leapfrog in development and boost competitiveness and productivity in agriculture, manufacturing and services. They can also play a pivotal role in education, health and banking the unbanked.”

Read told the summit that Vodafone and its local companies – Vodacom and Safaricom – have been part of two transformative African innovations in the last 20 years in mobile communications and financial services.

“We now have more than 170 million mobile customers across eight African countries. And our mobile financial platform M-Pesa has over 39 million customers making over 11 billion transactions worth $135 billion last year.

“Africa needs to connect to a better future. Vodafone is committed to do its part. This aligns with our purpose – which are the values we stand for and high standards we hold ourselves to account to build an inclusive digital society, in all countries we operate in, while halving our environmental impact by 2025.”

In his presentation, Read cited key areas that he feels Africa must prioritise when it comes to digital transformation.

He told his audience that Africa will need to overcome its sizeable infrastructure gap. The UN Broadband Commission estimates that achieving universal broadband Internet connectivity in Africa by 2030 requires an additional $109 billion.

“This underscores the need to maximise the attraction of private investment in infrastructure that will form the backbone of Africa’s digital transformation.

“Europe and Africa are Vodafone’s homes. We have always been committed to invest in Africa. We have invested €1 billion on average in each of the last three years, with 4G networks launched in all of our African markets, and we want to continue this level of investment for the next few years to expand coverage and start to trial 5G.”

Additionally, he noted some African countries are now lagging others in important decisions on allocating radio spectrum for mobile data and broadband services.

“We need to overcome these obstacles.”

Furthermore, he emphasised his core message is one of true public-private partnership between governments, industry and NGOs to come together with the objective of unlocking the full potential of digital society in Africa.

“We are committed to working side-by-side with governments, industry and NGOs to find solutions to close the connectivity and digital gaps within countries. But the high cost of infrastructure and devices, and our industry’s limited returns on capital, works against this objective.

“Vodafone is therefore pursuing innovative projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique to lower costs through new, more efficient, open network technologies. We are also exploring ways of increasing infrastructure-sharing and co-investment partnerships, and are working with vendors to reduce the cost of handsets and tablets. We would welcome your support in these efforts, which would bring connectivity to far more Africans.”

Turning to financial inclusion, he said Africa needs an enabling regulatory framework, as a means of empowering citizens and promoting SMEs to expand their businesses and transition from the informal to the formal economy.

“Mobile money is achieving financial inclusion at unprecedented level, with clear development dividends. MIT has attributed M-Pesa alone for lifting 2% of Kenya’s population out of absolute poverty.”

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