Address by Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful (MP) at the GHIOS 2020 held at Mayfair, London

TOPIC: Accessing the African Common Market through Ghana: Technology, Digitisation and Industrialisation – A focus on the Communications Sector.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

It’s a pleasure to be part of this Summit (GHIOS) 2020 and it is a credit to the GHIOS Planning Committee, Ghana Investment Promotion Centre and the Ghana High Commission, UK for recognizing the pivotal nature of Digitalisation in the transformational agenda of the government of Nana Akufo-Addo, and inviting us to share a few insights for the benefit of the investing public

Without the requisite investment in digital infrastructure and digital skills, any discussion on the benefits of Digitalisation will be moot as technology has the power to formalise our economies, improve efficiency and reduce corruption. We must treat access to the internet, voice and data as an essential utility just like water or electricity. We must invest in the digital infrastructure that is powering the world’s fourth industrial revolution and ensure that all African countries are key players and not bystanders in the global knowledge economy. Can we have our own equivalent of visa and MasterCard on the continent?

With Information, Communications Technology (ICT) as the catalyst, various sectors of the economy are being transformed to create richer, stronger, more developed and inclusive economies.

Recognizing that ICT is the critical tool to hasten socio-economic development and formalize the economy, the government of GHANA embarked on massive reforms in the educational and ICT sectors as part of the ambitious transformation agenda being implemented currently to realize the vision of a Ghana beyond Aid, so eloquently articulated by our President Nana Akufo-Addo . Indeed, we want a prosperous, self-assured Africa Beyond Aid.

Since taking office in January 2017, this government has improved access to senior high school through the Free Senior High School programme, by removing cost barriers. This has enabled us to drive the number of students in our senior high schools from 800,000 to a record 1.2million. Children who would have slipped through the cracks have been moved from the streets into school.

Several projects are being implemented to formalize our economy through technology, in the areas of Policy and Regulation, ICT Infrastructure Development, Universal Access Initiatives, ICT Capacity Building, Data Management, e-Governance, Cyber Security Awareness and Preparedness.

We have instituted the National Identification program and the National Digital Property System to serve as a national digital information hub for the identification and location of people and places in the country. Our mobile money interoperability program has also deepened financial inclusion, provided seamless transfer of funds between several service providers, mobile money wallets and bank accounts and made Ghana the fastest growing mobile money market on the continent. These three initiatives form the foundation of our emerging digital economy. By the end of the first quarter of this year, an electronic platform for the payment of all government goods and services provided by all MDAs will be implemented to promote efficiency and transparency in revenue collection and transition us to a cash lite society, improving the security of transactions as well. Many of these initiatives, in fact, all but one were developed and implemented by local Ghanaian IT firms. We believe that government must use its purchasing power to encourage the growth of the indigenous digital services sector and encourage tech entrepreneurship as well.

In conjunction with the Ministry of Finance, we have set up a Common Monitoring Platform (CMP) to monitor communications traffic, provide tax revenue assurance, manage fraud and monitor mobile money transactions to assist the NCA and GRA with their regulatory functions. It is providing real-time verification of transactions in the telecommunications sector and visibility over actual revenues earned in the sector.

A National Government Cloud Infrastructure (G-CLOUD) to support both the Public and Private sector with cloud computing services is also being installed while we have rolled out several e-government services including e-justice, e-procurement, e immigration, e parliament, and the e-registrar which automates business registration processes and reduces the application processing time from weeks or months to 48 hours. Applicants can also print their own e-certificates. Other initiatives are at various stages of completion.

On universal access, the “Smart Community Project” designed to provide affordable/free WIFI internet services to unserved and underserved communities across the country is also being implemented as well as a Rural Telephony Project to extend the coverage of mobile telephone and data services into all areas of the country by the end of this year.

To narrow the gender digital divide, we have institutionalized the Girls-in-ICT Initiative, expanded it into a bi-annual one and included mentorship sessions where accomplished female ICT professionals interact with and encourage the girls to take up courses in Information and Communication Technologies. They also get to spend a week in Accra to experience women in technology at their workplace and be excited to take up careers in ICT later in life. With just a few days training in computer literacy and coding, young girls between 9 and 13 years of age, some of whom had never seen a computer before, were building their own websites.

The results of all this will be fully visible in a few years but we have already begun seeing early signs of success in confident, self-assured, articulate young people, ready to take on any challenge.

The Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC)  our USF, has provided ICT Laboratories and network connectivity to hundreds of second cycle schools and over two hundred fully equipped Community Information Centres (CIC) have been constructed in all the District and Municipal Assemblies across the country. The Centres do not only serve as centres for training pupils and students within the catchment areas but are also open to the general public for both academic and research purposes. Farmers, market women, traders, artisans, traditional authorities are all using these facilities which we will also utilize as e-services centres to access all digital services.

With all these digital initiatives underway, we have to step up efforts to secure the digital ecosystem as well and prioritize cybersecurity.

GHANA is one of only 3 African countries which have ratified both the Budapest Convention on cybercrime and electronic evidence and the AU convention on cybersecurity and personal data protection, the Malabo Convention. ECOWAS has appointed Ghana as the cybersecurity champion for the region in view of our modest efforts. We must work to secure the digital infrastructure we are putting in. Our systems are linked and will be even more so when AfCFTA becomes fully operational. A cyberattack in one country can and will affect us all as we increasingly engage across borders and work together.

We are also prioritizing data protection and held the first African regional privacy and data protection conference in GHANA in June last year. Data governance, analytics and data mining, and ownership of the data we generate is becoming a huge concern and opportunity with the growth of artificial intelligence, machine learning and IoT. Data is the new oil and Africa must also benefit from it. That’s a whole subject I’ll not get into now but we must be part of the global conversations around this subject and opportunities for partnership with the private sector abound here too.

Ladies and gentlemen, ICT will level the playing field for us, enable us to leapfrog development and unlock our human capital. All these initiatives enumerated above are geared towards creating and maintaining an environment that will promote innovation, generate confidence, facilitate job creation and alleviate poverty for the people of Ghana which will ultimately promote and enhance our peace and security for the devil finds work for an idle brain.

In our bid to drive digital innovation in Ghana, the Government has established a State-of-the-Art Mini tech hub, the Accra Digital Centre which is currently home to over 40 Tech companies. It commenced operations in 2017 and has provided 2,000 digital and ancillary jobs for Ghanaians, incubated 200 Digital start-ups and trained over 4000 youths in various digital programmes under the Impact Sourcing Programme.

The African Continental Free Trade Area also promises one harmonised African market that businesses can take full advantage of to bridge the fragmented markets of more than one billion people, move the continent towards a digital and knowledge-driven economy and increase our global competitiveness. It will largely be driven by technology and e-commerce and we cannot afford to fail our people and must make AFCTA work.

Yet still, critical to achieving these goals is the ease in accessing financial assistance by women and the youth. In general, it is financial inclusion that makes life easier for our people in the rural areas where it is difficult to have access to clean drinking water, good education, good health interventions and other basic amenities because most often all these vital services have to be paid for no matter how little.

Digitizing financial services is, therefore, a necessary intervention for the average Ghanaian. With a mobile data subscriber base of over 25 million and a penetration rate of over 85%, this digital platform has made it possible for over 50% of the country’s previously excluded citizens to engage in financial transactions with ease.  Today, it is possible for people in the remotest part of the country to access financial support from both the private and public sectors, send or receive money, pay for transactions and receive microcredit and small loans to finance small businesses and insurance

Let us bring our fragmented markets together so that we can scale up and build businesses that can grow and compete on the global stage.

Ultimately job creation is the goal. If we give our young people the right skills to enable them to succeed in the digital world, they can and will provide the human resources for the global world of work within the next 10 to 30 years. Africa has the youngest population in the world. They are hungry for knowledge and do amazing things with the little exposure they have. They can do even more with the right opportunities and we, gathered here, must work together to make it happen. You can use GHANA as a launchpad to reach the rest of the continent, as all the initiatives enumerated here provide opportunities for lucrative investments in digital infrastructure, services, applications, training, e-governance infrastructure, cybersecurity, data protection systems, technology parks, BPO centers, e-commerce platforms and last-mile logistics services, you name it. The future is now.

However, it is important for me to state that without the requisite, innovative policies driving our various agendas it will be difficult for us to move our continent to the level we all hope for. We must develop policies that support the expansion of education and the ICT infrastructure in Africa. We need to make ‘Access to ICTs’ the focus of policy because it cuts across all sectors of the economy.  Today we need to build the next generation of ICT infrastructure that will power the evolution of smart, sustainable cities and communities which have the potential of creating digital jobs and the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There are however some critical issues to highlight to enable Ghana to benefit fully from the AfCFTA. Communication charges are high because the traffic exchange points for voice or data traffic originating from or terminating in Africa reside in Europe. To reduce the cost of communications and protect our data, we must invest in the establishment of African traffic Exchange Points to ensure that African traffic is managed, controlled and protected in Africa.

We must also promote the sharing of infrastructure within and among African countries to enhance the connectivity experience for all our citizens. Another key area that presents a challenge to communications is a reduction in roaming charges for both voice and data. We can derive more benefits from the Single Market Area if Free Roaming is promoted and implemented continent-wide. We have amended our law to give full backing to the implementation of the West African Regional Free-Roaming agenda and we encourage all others to do so as we work towards extending this to cover the whole of Africa.

We must also ensure that Data Protection and Cyber Security laws are in place and are enforced in Africa. This will ensure compliance with international/global standards to secure and protect our digital ecosystem and personal data on the African Continent.

The opportunities digitization promises for our teeming youthful population are countless. The digital era provides the platform to grow tech entrepreneurs to develop new innovative solutions, Apps and software. We are keen to develop the digital skills of our youth to create the critical mass of skilled personnel needed for our development. We want to develop the software industry in Ghana to be able to produce homegrown digital solutions for the African market.

It is DIGITIME in Ghana and I hope I have kindled a small interest in you to come explore the numerous opportunities this sector provides to invest in and help us grow together. May God continue to bless the work of our hands, infuse us with creativity, courage, determination and vision and bless our homeland GHANA.

Thank you.