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Leo Chen, President of Huawei Sub-Saharan Africa Region


Africa can expect ‘non-stop innovation’

The rapid growth of the continent’s digital economy is boosting productivity and increasing jobs, the AfricaCom conference heard last week.

After two years of virtual gatherings, the annual AfricaCom event – Africa’s largest technology conference – made its in-person return with a hopeful message for the continent. 

“The high resilience and rapid growth of the continent’s digital economy, technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and cloud are evolving rapidly and the adoption of ICT in a wide range of industries is growing,” said Leo Chen, president of Huawei Sub-Saharan Africa Region, in the opening keynote address. “They are supporting Africa in advancing the technical revolution, boosting productivity and increasing jobs.”

Taking place at the Cape Town International Conference Centre (CTICC), the event brought together African operators, industry figures and opinion leaders. Huawei had a big presence at the event, under the theme “Lighting up the Future”.

Chen told the audience that, over the last two decades, Africa has made significant progress in digitalisation. It has established first-mile infrastructure, connecting countries on the continent to the global internet. It has tripled its middle-mile internet infrastructures that expands the connection within and between countries.

However, there are still challenges to be overcome.

“Today, we still need to improve the last-mile broadband infrastructure and bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas.”

While there is appetite for a greater uptake of digital technologies, constraints including a skills deficit and lack of viable technology solutions are impeding the advance of ICT adoption.

Chen sakd there wrre three major ways to break through these bottlenecks.

“We need to further deepen connectivity to connect more people, enterprises, and scenarios; unleash digital productivity and enable digital transformation in multiple industries; increase the ICT industry’s energy-efficiency and leverage ICT technologies to reduce emissions across all industries.”

Of particular relevance to the African context were case studies around the digital transformation of the port and mining sectors in China which have attracted wide attention from its African counterparts. These case studies provide a reference for the potential of the development of the digital economy in Africa, as 90% of Africa’s imports and exports travels by sea, and mining is an important source of wealth creation for many African countries.

As Africa’s digital ship sails into the future, it requires a strong tail wind to propel it forward, said Chen. He called for more favourable industrial policies, and more cooperation between public and private sectors.

To this end, Huawei has set up four innovation centres in Africa, launched several plans to support the development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and will train 100,000 “digital champions” in Africa over the next three years.

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