Africa’s emerging ‘contactless economy’ creates new growth opportunities: industry experts

  • Global Business Forum Africa 2021 in Dubai examines growing role of technology as a development tool for African economies.

Dubai, UAE – Africa’s emerging “contactless economy” is growing rapidly in the Covid-era and creating plenty of new growth opportunities that African and foreign companies and investors can capitalise on, industry experts said on Wednesday at the Global Business Forum (GBF) Africa 2021 in Dubai.

Held under the theme Transformation Through Trade’ the two-day Forum is being held at the Dubai Exhibition Centre on the sidelines of Expo 2020 Dubai, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

A session titled Tech-celeration: The Contactless Economy brought together Lacina Koné, Director General of the Smart Africa Secretariat from Côte d’Ivoire; and Innocent Muhizi, CEO of the Rwanda Information Society Authority.

“When we talk about technology in the developed world, we talk about it disruption, about new players threatening the field,” Moderator Goolam Ballim noted. “This is in contrast to what we see in Africa, where technology is seen as more developmental than disruptive. It allows new players to enter into the market – a market that is often uncharted.”

Lacina Koné spoke about Smart Africa’s vision to transform Africa into a single digital market by 2030. “The strategy consists of five main points: putting ICT at the heart of national development plans; improving access to ICT especially for banks; ensuring transparency, accountability, and openness through ICT; putting the private sector first in the ecosystem; and using ICT to promote sustainable development,” he said.

“Looking at the registered mobile money market share, Africa owns 50%, we also own 70% of mobile money transactions globally. Africa by nature is a mobile continent and we are leading the world in that sector,” Koné added. “Intertrade in Africa is only around 18%. The African Continental Free Trade Area aims to promote more integration and Smart Africa is working to facilitate that with smart identity and e-payment solutions.”

For his part, Innocent Muhizi underlined the importance of digital solutions noting that: “If another pandemic hits, we have no resort but digital. You have to automate certain services. For example, during the pandemic alone, mobile transactions grew by 400%.”

Muhizi went on to list three important factors to focus on to promote digital technologies: Affordable connectivity, affordable devices, and digital skills. “You have to offer incentives to digital service providers. These include bringing down the cost of transactions, creating an enabling environment for service providers, and upgrading some of the services.”

GBF Africa 2021 is being hosted at Dubai Exhibition Centre under the theme Transformation Through Trade. The forum is bringing government and business leaders together to explore bilateral trade opportunities between the UAE and Africa. GBF Africa is the first in a series of Global Business Forums takng place at Expo 2020 Dubai, with the upcoming Global Business Forums focusing on Latin America and the ASEAN region.