Technology at the top of African CEOs’ agendas

Africa is currently undergoing a rapid and deep digital revolution. In our ‘Africa CEO Survey’, technology is at the top of African CEOs’ agendas, with 41% recognising technological advances as the most significant global megatrend that will transform their businesses over the next five years. In responding to this change, no less than 91% of African CEOs either recognise the need to change their technology investments or are in the process of doing so. Similarly, 85% said the same about data analytics.

Many technological changes are contributing to Africa’s digital revolution. Broadband access is not only modifying all sectors of the African economy, it is also triggering a radical transformation of the entire society. With the penetration of smartphones being still relatively low, the digital revolution has just started.

Each sector of the economy is or will be impacted by this development and the expected change will be faster and more radical than elsewhere due to a low level of development.

For example, the development of money transactions through mobile is disrupting the banking industry in many African countries. As an illustration, the M-Pesa system in Kenya allows 18 million people (out of a population of 25 million over the age of 15) to pay their taxi fares, electricity or restaurant bills, to transfer money to relatives or to withdraw cash at local kiosks with their mobile phones. Eight million transactions are completed every day, creating a parallel banking system, which is extremely useful in a country where almost everybody has a mobile phone but not everyone has a bank account.

Several African governments already consider digital adoption as a unique opportunity to accelerate economic development and are encouraging investments being undertaken by operators. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, analysis of mobile phone usage statistics helped improve the understanding of population movements in Abidjan, enabling better allocation of public transportation capacity (buses, minibuses and shared taxis) and the construction of new roads where they are most needed.

More important will be the impact of digital technology on society. The proliferation of e-education, e-health, e-government and e-commerce initiatives will deeply change and improve the lives of many citizens by allowing public administrations to overcome the lack of resources or competencies.

There are still, of course, many hurdles to the development of a digital economy in Africa – and many of these hurdles are related to the development of a stable political and legal environment for citizens, corporates and investors. High-speed internet will also require new infrastructure. But with the acceleration of local initiatives to develop local content and services, digital technology will be successfully deployed in Africa for many years to come.

Mohammed Dembele is telecoms leader for PwC Francophone Africa