Africa Tech festival kicks off in Cape Town

09 November 2022

The 25th Africa Tech Festival kicked off in Cape Town on Tuesday with a record-breaking day one attendance following a two-year physical absence because of global lockdowns.

The festival was opened by James Williams, director, events, Informa Tech, who remarked that “during these 25 years, the event has evolved to ensure we remain the continent’s largest and most influential tech event and to tell the story of continued growth and frontier technologies, and how African innovation is tackling some of the globe's biggest challenges. AfricaCom and AfricaTech came together as a festival in 2018 and continue to explore connectivity, infrastructure, and telco evolution. And with this evolution to a festival, we've also worked this year, more than any other, to integrate some of the stories around culture, sport, music, and entertainment that make the continent such a diverse and unique place to work.”

Adding to Williams’ comments on the growth of the event and its legacy, and officially welcoming delegates to the 2022 event, deputy minister of the department of communications and digital technologies, Republic of South Africa, the Hon Philly Mapulane, remarked on the value of the event’s capacity for bringing people together and encouraging tech investment in South Africa and the region.

Unpacking Africa’s history of technology and its bright future, Russell Southwood, Balancing Act shared a keynote, saying “… fantastic things have happened to Africa, because of the investment in technology over the last 35 years…we now have networks, we now understand what needs to be done. And the next, however many 20 or 30, 40 or 50 years is going to be really interesting, because when they write a new history of Africa, when it's completely changed, and very different, they will say it started here.”

One of the first deals to be signed during the event was the European Investment Bank's conclusion of a US$10 million agreement with Bandwidth and Cloud Services Group (BCS), backing the roll out of eastern DRC telecom connectivity. The deal is the first EIB Global quasi-equity investment and will back expansion of fibre-optic network to 2.5 million people, as well as provide high-speed connectivity to 319 schools and 70 hospitals. This will fund 1,250km of fibre infrastructure out of the 20,000kms BCS is looking to build over the next three years in Eastern, Southern, and central Africa.

Reaffirming its commitment to helping Africa digitise its economy, Leo Chen, Huawei president of the southern Africa region, emphasised the three major elements of digital transformation: digital infrastructure, digital services, and digital skills. “If we do these three things well, we can connect the unconnected people and businesses, fully unleash digital productivity and develop the digital economy, no matter what its definition is,” he said. Chen also shared data that shows how the digital economy in sub-Saharan Africa, is growing faster than the region’s GDP.

On the topic of investment and creating the right climates for this to occur, executive mayor of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis shared a keynote speech with delegates around ‘This is Cape Town - Building Africa's Innovation & Investment Hub.’ Acknowledging the role that regulatory frameworks and government participation play in driving progress, Hill-Lews said: “digital transformation in our government not only leads to new opportunities for economic growth and job creation, but also improves the functioning of government to the benefit of all of our residents.”

Fadi Pharaon, Ericsson shared mobility trends that the company has seen of late key of which, has been the rapid uptake of 4G across the territory, with sub-Sahara reporting a staggering 26% increase alone. 4G devices have also made a giant leap forward, in many instances surpassing the number of 3G devices, this is thanks in part to lower prices of entry level mobile models but also the growing market for refurbished smartphones. Pharaon also noted that “another enabler which will accelerate 4G adoption, are regulatory initiatives to make more spectrum available for key markets. Now we all know that this is the foundation of the telecoms industry.”

Answering the question of what it means for government to be committed to the tech sector success, Cape Town’s executive mayor explained that: “For us in the city this involves building an enabling environment first and foremost. Our job is to ensure that the conditions for your success as tech businesses and investors and innovators and creators are present, not to try to intervene to make your success happen on your behalf.”

Tomiwa Aladekomo, Tech Cabal Media, and chair of the AHUB Start-up stage, observed how “start-ups have provided some of the most important economic growth, foreign direct investment, and job opportunities across the continent over the last few years. Today, there is a global recession that is challenging some of the fastest growing tech companies globally and that challenge is also affecting the capital available for African start-ups to grow. It’s a challenging period, but start-ups will remain a critical growth engine.”

Delegates were treated to insights from Philip Kiracofe, CEO of Startupbootcamp AfriTech on supporting start-ups to foster innovation, and Theran Knighton-Fitt, co-founder and chief humanising officer Mygrow, regarding how culture, properly harnessed can make a start-up more human and more innovative. Also, on the billing today at AHUB, were several speakers sharing where venture and funding for start-ups is in Africa today.

Critical to the advancement of digital across the continent, is citizen trust in the channels that are on offer to them. There were several key sessions that spoke to the growing need for cybersecurity measures. Commenting on how we need to operate along the lines of “trusting nothing and verifying everything” with a growing automation, AI, and machine-led influence on everything we do, Alan de Waal-Smit from ITR Technology shared how an integrated approach to IT systems and management would be required to create a zero-trust architecture, that would also attract consumer confidence.

Affordable access, is of course, a continuous theme with every discussion that involves the digitisation of Africa. A rousing panel discussion, entitled: ‘Empowering Africa’s Connectivity Champions to bridge the digital divide’ was well attended, with panellists noting that whilst Government was essential to kick start provide the framework, it was also down to the private sector to make it sustainable.

Speaking to the need for every user in Africa to have the power of computing in their hands, Mariam Abdullahi, director, android partnerships, Africa at Google said: “it is not a matter of just giving the power of computing to everyone. You’ve got to give them secure, reliable, delightful services to use in then most affordable way.”

Also on the AfricaCom Centre Stage, Pfiona Okumu, head of music sub-Sahara Africa, Spotify, took the conversation forward on digital entertainment, sharing how Spotify has at least 10,000 songs uploaded every day. “It's almost perfect democratization of the arts, which is essential as there's so much talent out there.”

Speaking to parity in the digital arts, and the use of algorithms to address disparity, Okumu also remarked that “we are very proactive with our programming to make sure women artists are represented. So we over-index to make sure that happens, so if you listen to women artists frequently, the more you listen to female artists, the more they will be served to you. So you get to discover even more. That's one of the ways we can use tech to actively push listening habits to make sure that they're inclusive. Let's just make sure that marginalized creators have an equal shake at the stick.”

Digital transformation is at the forefront of conversation on the opening day, and days two and three promise to be as exciting and informative.