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Trade evolves in Africa – again

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Arica’s recent historical deficit puts it in a convenient position in terms of adopting new technologies. Other regions have paid the expensive price of being early adopters but African companies can now adopt the best in modern technology, writes BRETT PARKER, MD for SAP Africa.

Trade is in Africa’s blood. Its rich resources, numerous societies and access to the world have created a hotbed of trade civilisations. One could go back millennia to the early kingdoms around the continental horn – the forefathers and peers of the Ancient Egyptian world – or the mysterious Kingdom of Nok in West Africa as examples.

But even in the last 2,000 years Africa never shied away from trade. The Kingdoms of Ashanti and Kongo were world-famous business hubs. In Libya vast desert cities can be found where ancient Berbers built elaborate irrigation systems. The Zimbabwe ruins and South Africa’s Mapungubwe had yielded evidence of extensive trade with Asian and Middle Eastern nations.

But most striking is the legacy of kingdoms that existed along the Sahel: the transitional area between the Sahara and the rest of the continent. Here numerous societies sat shoulder to shoulder, controlling the vast trade moving between Eurasia, West and Central Africa for ages.

Today the world is shifting gears into a new revolution, creating an opportunity for Africa to assert its legacy as the birthplace of business networks. Computational power and connectivity is shrinking the globe, changing how we compete and cooperate. Mastering pace, scale and complexity, creating channels and fostering partnerships have never been more achievable. Some have called this the Network Revolution and it is Africa’s greatest business opportunity yet.

The continent’s recent historical deficit ironically puts it in a very convenient position. Whereas other regions have paid the expensive price of being early adopters, African companies and states can readily adopt the best in modern technology, resulting in real gains on the ground. If there are any doubts about this, just look at the spectacular penetration of mobile devices in Africa: more than any other region in the world. Consider the remarkable growth of Rwanda, which thanks to savvy technology investments has tripled its GDP since 2000.

Success and growth is almost a given when developing markets jump onto the Network Revolution bandwagon. The real question is how to go about it. Here are three steps defining the transition:

From manual to electronic and Internet-based. The Network Revolution is a shift from manual processes kept separate in silos. Automation and accessibility are among its pillars, opening both resources and the ability to cross-pollinate ideas. South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs has dramatically improved its service, auditability and turnaround times by going paperless. It captures all data electronically, which is shared across its footprint. This not only made for happier citizens, but opened the way to adopting the country’s award-winning Smart ID cards.

From an entity and chain to a network. Business networks are the oldest and most vital components to any enterprise’s survival. These are jealously guarded because of their fragility: all it takes is for that proverbial weak link in the chain to break. But today digital

sourcing marketplaces such as Aruba are making it easy to find suppliers, partners and buyers. The mobile phone is a cornerstone to these networks: Africa is currently undergoing a farming revolution in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, where mobile services help farmers get daily prices, share advice and even gain micro-insurance for their crops across a web of networks, not flimsy top-down chains.

From need to reach and fusion. The biggest impact of the Network Revolution is being born from data. We are increasingly able to quantify aspects of the world through data, be it consumer behaviour, environmental shifts, mechanical maintenance or anything that generates information about its behaviour. That may soon become everything as the Internet of Things brings sensors to every nook of our world. And fusing the resulting data in creative ways to offer new insights will be the differentiator between the haves and have-nots of tomorrow. This is extending the reach and proactivity of companies and governments beyond their traditional boundaries. One example is the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, which has accelerated its delivery and boosted efficiency by adopting data-centric thinking.

One element underpins all of the above: the platform. For any business or government to take advantage of the Network Revolution, it must consolidate its processes into a unified software platform: a powerful foundation where everything ties together. Called the 3rd Platform, this is the next step in digital technology, taking advantage of the power and scale provided by modern data centres and connectivity. One example is SAP HANA, the pioneering in-memory platform. Think of it as an operating system for the entire enterprise: a single space upon which all other processes – be it internal tasks, external collaboration, differentiating applications or new technologies – can find a home.

This consolidation pays dividends. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that networked enterprises using collaborative technology to connect processes to customers, suppliers, and partners outpace their peers in nearly every category of business performance. Africa is primed to take the Network Revolution by the horns and reassert itself as the birthplace of business.

Africa News

IoT’s answer for Africa

IoT and digitization enables us to efficiently, proactively and predictively address the sustainability challenges that are faced globally and on the African continent, RESHAAD SHA, CEO of Liquid Telecom.

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With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3-billion in 2018 to 1.7-billion in 2030, both challenges and opportunities are presented with regards managing issues including food production and security pose  as well the utilization of limited natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Water scarcity and quality for example are realities that negatively impact health, food production and security. Population growth rates and climatic changes place an exponential demand on this scarce and dwindling resource. These are just some of the sustainability challenges facing not just the African continent, but other developing nations and the world as a whole. In addition to this, the demand for the delivery of basic services as healthcare and sanitation also increases.

Against this background of African population growth lies the grim projection that Africa will account for more than 50% of child deaths (under 5) by 2030, while each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases according to the UNICEF 2017 trends in child mortality report. It’s an alarming fact, given that while some 2.6-billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663-million people still do not have access.

The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Further, the department states that around 35% of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. These are just some of the ways in which reactive, inefficient, and manually driven processes have limited us in responding in an impactful manner and timeously mitigating these risks

It is for these reasons and other socio economic and environmental concerns that the United Nations has established its Sustainable Development Goals strategy, addressing the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, and environmental degradation.

We need to look at smarter ways that leverage technology in order to addressing these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive and data driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.

The IoT ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics and workflow automation platforms, and applications are at the core of acquiring, analyzing and harnessing the insights that can be integrated into agriculture, service delivery, health and resource management processer – IoT is at the core of a digitization

One such sector which has benefited immensely from technology is in agriculture pest control, with the implementation of AI and IoT by Spanish startup AgroPestAlert. The innovation makes use of “smart” traps that capture insects and analyse their wing beats to identify their species and even their sex. Placed throughout the fields, the traps communicate with the system to predict an imminent invasion. The system will send alerts to phones, tablets and computers and use an easy-to-understand visual tool to cue farmers instantly.

Around 200-million Africans use approximately 1-million manual pumps across the continent to manually access clean drinking water.  IoT applications have been utilised in assuring the delivery of water through manual these pumps, According to estimates, at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The impact of not having access to clean drinking water is dehydration or water borne pandemics.

In the Kenyan Region of Kyusoa, Oxford University began a proof of concept project in 2013, which made use of motion sensors) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle which was transmitted and analysed in real time. A decision support system based on real data was  used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking water for the rural population.

Liquid Telecom realise that the future of sustainability lies in technology and innovations such as IoT. We provide high speed fiber connectivity to interconnect as well as access platforms to build IoT solutions, in addition to access to Microsoft Azure suite of platforms for analytics and algorithm driven based processing and execution. Our Pan African network enables collaboration and cross border innovation and learning, fast well as the capability to efficiently scale out these solutions on Africa’s Liquid Cloud.

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Africa start-up ecosystem can drive blockchain

Through nurturing and technical support, Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem can be a major driver of Blockchain-based innovation says BEN ROBERTS, Liquid Telecom’s Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.

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African communities have always come-up with inventive solutions to local problems. Take Somalia as an example. The country is said to have one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. It has few commercial banks and relations with international creditors remain fro­zen due to debts incurred in the late 1980s. 

So its population uses Hawala; an infor­mal value transfer system based on the per­formance and honour of a large network of money brokers. For example, it would mean a Somali based in the US would give money to a local branch agent, where it is sent to a cen­tral country clearing house, then onto a clear­ing house based in another country (typically somewhere in the Middle East). From there it goes to a Somali agent, before the funds are finally collected by an individual in Somalia.

Much like blockchain, the Hawala system is built on trust – but that’s where any similarities end. In fact, cryptocurrencies – many of which are blockchain-powered – may eventually be­come a replacement for Hawala and other exist­ing forms of international remittances. Cryptocur­rencies can enable people to exchange currency online without any middleman – even banks. 

International remittance is one of many compelling use cases for blockchain. The technology’s ability to digitise trust makes it a unique fit for many African countries, par­ticularly those where processes and supply chains remain poorly designed and susceptible to corruption.

At Liquid Telecom, we’re excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging tech­nologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses that utilises our network infrastructure and servic­es. The rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of the region’s soft­ware developers, who themselves rely on a high-speed internet connection and access to cloud-based tools. Our fibre footprint – which will soon stretch all the way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt – is providing the foundations for digital innovation, while our partnership with Microsoft is enabling access to the cloud-based services and tools needed to create digital solutions for local problems.

Last year, with support from Microsoft, we set-up our Go Cloud initiative, which is helping to provide the region’s start-up communities with technical support, training and access to software. Using Azure Cloud, start-ups can cut development time and experiment easily with modular, preconfigured networks and infra­structure, enabling them to iterate and validate blockchain scenarios quickly by using built-in connections to Azure.

We’re starting to see the first crop of African start-ups experimenting with blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Take Rwandan start-up Up­lus, which is utilising blockchain to secure all transactions on its digital crowdfunding plat­form. The technology also allows the platform to take contributions from any country and covert it to the local currency.

A lot of existing applications in Africa tend to fall short when it comes to user experience, and blockchain could certainly help address some of these issues – be it by creating a new trusted way to make payments or verify user identification. During this early stage of block­chain experimentation and proof of concept, it will be crucial for start-ups and businesses to develop solutions that are relevant for Afri­can communities. Without that, the technology won’t gather momentum.

Regulation can nurture or constrict the tech­nology and will have a role to play in being a ‘make or break’ for blockchain. Living in Ken­ya, I’m proud to see how proactive the gov­ernment has been in seizing the blockchain opportunity. The creation by the President of a taskforce earlier this year dedicated to blockchain – led by the former permanent secretary for Ministry of Information and Com­munications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo (see page 7) – shows how committed the country is to being a leader in emerging technologies. As more African countries follow Kenya’s lead, blockchain should hopefully find itself reso­nating more powerfully with local businesses and consumers.

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