Global Advocacy for African Affairs

COVID-19 shows why Africa should prioritise ICT in national development

By Frank Eleanya

One of the lessons the COVID-19 pandemic has brought home is the strategic importance of information communication technology (ICT) in national development, says global technology manufacturer, Huawei.

In a statement signed by Chen Lei, President of Huawei Southern Africa Region, the company said that while it is critical to react appropriately, governments across the continent should start preparing for the next phase.

 “At Huawei, we are aware of the massive effect of the pandemic, as well as how seriously communities would be affected. However, we are also conscious that as well as protecting lives, we need to help lay the foundation for the next stage of society’s technological advancement – the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Lei said.

He observed how the lockdown induced by the pandemic has led to creative activities. Of note is the recent  YouTube video of young South African dancer Hlumelo, who has been under lockdown in his home township of Gugulethu. A member of the Zama Dance School, Hlumelo has not let the lockdown hold him back, and has continued practising his steps for the moment when he and his friends can perform together again.

Similarly, during the Chinese lockdown, members of the Shanghai ballet continued to practise – wearing facemasks – for their upcoming performance of Swan Lake. They took precautions but remained focused on the next phase of their development.

According to Lei, Huawei has been fortunate to be able to assist with social distancing levering on its technologies on the request of organisations in Africa.

The company provided video conferencing systems in different countries that enabled information sharing domestically and experience exchange internationally between epidemic prevention experts in China and Africa.

“Our remote videoconferencing systems have helped medical institutions communicate more efficiently. We have also implemented an AI-based diagnosis solution in several medical institutions. CT scan reviews can now be completed in two minutes, 80% faster, in a race with time, critical for saving lives,” he said. “When the dust settles, and we begin to arrive at the much-heralded “new normal”, we will have seen the immense potential for ICT to build social cohesion.”

Lei says a new business model is taking shape across sectors, one characterised by remote work, distance education, remote healthcare, online shopping and mobile money. These business models span transportation, security, finance, medicine, education and entertainment.

This new paradigm is driven by vastly greater data consumption, facilitated by the mass connectivity of 4G and 5G technology.

Governments are coming to understand the need to prioritise ICT as a basic necessity. As a recent white paper noted, the COVID-19 pandemic is seeing 5G transform healthcare response mechanisms to become digital, accurate and smart.

The epidemic has brought home to policymakers the importance of ICT in national development. This is likely to accelerate the establishment of a national data centres, optical fibre networks and communication base stations.

This kind of “big network” deployment also presents a historic opportunity for Africa to use ICT to catch up with, and overtake other nations in terms of human development and quality of life for all its citizens.

“ICT platforms are likely to provide the foundation of Africa’s future economy. The key is to continue honing and perfecting them, expanding their use even now, so that once the lockdown ends, we can recover more quickly,” he said.

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