Interview: Nana Osei Afrifa

How will the implementation of a nationwide digital address system affect the economy?

NANA OSEI AFRIFA: The impact of a nationwide digital address system extends to all areas of the economy, which is the main reason why this initiative, along with financial sector interoperability and the deployment of national identification cards, is at the top of the administration’s agenda. Ghana has been struggling for decades without a digital address system, and it is now the first country in the world to officially implement one as a nationwide policy initiative. There is also a likelihood that other countries might follow its lead in modernising and formalising the economy.

In terms of sectors, the scope is very wide. The capabilities of couriers and logistics services will immediately be impacted, and a streamlined flow of goods and information will optimise efficiencies. Additionally, the financial sector will benefit greatly since banks will be better equipped to accurately follow up on their customers and locate property or land used as collateral. Indirectly, this could contribute positively to the issue of access to credit by reducing overall risk.

A more detailed version of the system could potentially be used as a tool for mapping rural lands, reducing the incidence of land disputes and smoothing out uncertainties, overall benefitting the agricultural sector. Furthermore, on a public level, critical areas such as law enforcement and emergency response will receive a great boost, and efficacy will increase as response times decrease. Lastly, the collective capacity of state-owned enterprises will be positively influenced.

What are the main challenges when it comes to rolling out a digital address system?

AFRIFA: The implementation of every new system faces issues. Looking at it from a technical perspective, we experienced and overcame difficulties when mapping non-flat terrain and locating certain villages. The application itself has been updated a couple of times based on customer feedback. There was some criticism claiming that the deployment of the project was too fast. Furthermore, there was some confusion regarding the scope of the application, and a lack of awareness of its benefits in comparison to existing alternatives. Even though other platforms provide some benefits, the added value of having a dedicated system and full support for the needs of Ghana is unparalleled.

Once the system is fully adopted by the public sector and the digital address codes are integrated into utility bills, for example, a cascade effect will take place, and its benefits will become more widely perceived. Currently, the system is used in banking to verify addresses in order to open new accounts or follow-up on new credit requests. The necessity of digital address codes as part of the new national identification system further demonstrates its wider application and benefits.

What measures need to be taken to boost IT entrepreneurship and small businesses in Ghana?

AFRIFA: Unfortunately, local companies face some degree of reservation regarding their ability to deliver, undermining the success of recent technology-driven initiatives implemented by Ghanaians. The success of key projects will have a direct impact on the overall perception of technology firms as valuable partners for both the public and private sector.

Financing has also been a critical issue, especially for entrepreneurial ventures in their early stages, due to high interest rates. Even if rates improve, which is likely, there is a need to balance the sources of financing for new businesses, and equity investment is one option that is starting to gain traction. There is already equity participation in the growth stage of new businesses starting to secure their place in the market.

Lastly, general improvements to ease of doing business need to be followed by a more systematic approach to small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurship that could promote local business.