Mboweni calls for aggressive broadband adoption in Africa

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Finance minister Tito Mboweni.
Finance minister Tito Mboweni.

Africa needs to make an aggressive case to reach universal broadband adoption, and without it, lives on the continent would be radically upended, says finance minister Tito Mboweni.

Speaking at the first plenary session on behalf of president Cyril Ramaphosa at the World Economic Forum on Africa this week, Mboweni said economic growth, job creation and entrepreneurial activity were “inextricably’’ linked to broadband access.

The minister said with communities all across the continent exploring ways to overcome the digital divide, now is an opportune time to help policymakers and industry understand the benefits of pursuing broadband adoption.

Mboweni said Africa has to overcome social, economic and spatial inequality in the provision of broadband, saying if it does not: “We will simply perpetuate the economic exclusion of the majority of the continent’s people.

“We must ensure our citizens are prepared and if necessary, that they are shielded from any adverse consequences. As African countries, we must take advantage of the opportunities presented by technological change to enhance our competitiveness in the global landscape.”

Mboweni urged governments to ensure technology promotes greater equity, and broader social and economic participation.

“As countries of Africa, we share a common determination to be part of this new age of disruption and to join the economy of the future.”

Additionally, he called upon governments to respond with agility to the changes brought by disruptive trends and technologies that are transforming lives, as well as the way of doing business and governance matters.

“The growth of mobile money systems on the continent is an example of just how much technology can broaden access to markets, connect companies and support the growth of start-ups and small businesses.

“We need to adopt incentive programmes for industries that may experience significant structural disruption in just a few years’ time.”

Reinforcing his message, Mboweni also explored how industry jobs will be impacted by automation, possibly resulting in downsizing and redundancies.

Citing McKinsey research, which says up to 375 million workers globally may have to change their occupational category and acquire new skills by 2030, Mboweni implored employers “to make substantial financial commitments to ongoing upskilling and reskilling in response to labour market needs”.

Mboweni believes the continent must stimulate entrepreneurial activity as a conglomerate.

“Our response must be collaborative, multi-sectoral and inclusive. That is why we, as South Africa, are working with our neighbours to develop a continental strategy led by the African Telecommunications Union.”

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