Posted by Cheick DiarraChairman for Africa
It was with great interest that I recently read an opinion article in the Financial Times on How Africa can become the next Bric, authored by Jim O’Neill, the chief economist at Goldman Sachs, who originally coined the ‘Brics’ acronym. I am delighted to see that Africa’s potential is being likened to that of the other big emerging growth markets.
The article lists a number of ‘micro components’ that must be addressed in order for African countries to improve their growth prospects (stability of law and government, improving education, spreading the use of mobile phones and internet), but I would like to add that fundamental to this analysis is the necessary investment in technology infrastructure to make this all happen.
The common connective glue in this development equation is technology – and much more so than in growing the use of mobile phones and internet. In recent years Africa’s people have become much more digitally aware, especially decision makers within Government, and I believe that technology will continue to be an important catalyst to help governments serve their citizens more effectively by helping to address their security, reliability and regulatory challenges. Technology also leads to increased jobs and business development, broadening social and economic opportunities for Africa’s citizens. But first and foremost, it is important to note that increasing connectivity or distributing computers and software will have limited impact on development without investment in Africa’s most important resource – its people. Expanding educational opportunities and digital literacy in communities is critical to enabling people to harness the opportunities that technology can offer.
The private sector has a critical role to play here – partnerships between the private and public sector are essential for creating and sustaining growth and development, enabling more effective programme development and delivery through the sharing of mutual experience. Microsoft is already engaging in high impact public private-partnerships to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of national institutions and their development partners here in Africa. If we work in partnership to provide the right infrastructures and the right opportunities and access to skills and knowledge to support the creation of wealth and sustainable growth, then the citizens of Africa will do the rest. If we work together, we can lay the foundations for a new African Bric in the wall.
Microsoft's leadership is much-needed. The broader private sector business communities in Africa's large urban centers cannot so easily carve out a role in public-private partnerships. They do not bring enough to the table for most government officials to value the benefits.
I see much of the tech growth coming from the bottom up; the challenge is to find a way for these entrepreneurs to (1) be recognized and (2) to monetize their efforts.