Interview: Ali Faramawy

What do you think are the primary drivers of ICT usage in sub-Saharan Africa?

ALI FARAMAWY: The main drivers of ICT usage in sub-Saharan Africa can be broken down into three areas – government, small and large businesses, and individuals. In governance, there is the belief that ICT can make a big difference in the way information is used for alignment between the different government organisations. A lot of people talk about the importance of transparency, and the information chain is a big part of that. I see requests from people to automate the way information sharing is done in Parliament, tax collection and e-government services. There is also the hope that you can use some of those to attract foreign direct investment.

The second driver is business. Whether these are large businesses or smaller firms, there are always people looking to automate and improve operations, control costs and handle payments. These include the usual business drivers, with a large emphasis now on the speed of operations as well as cost reduction.

Individuals are perhaps the most powerful phenomenon, especially within the younger generation. They want to know what is happening in the world and get things done, and they also want to be heard.

What is the greatest challenge to boosting ICT usage in sub-Saharan Africa?

FARAMAWY: Information access or, to put it in a better way, affordable access, is a very important challenge. We are using TV White Space technology. This is basically the unused frequency on the old TV spectrum. We found ways, in collaboration with many other organisations, to use those unused spectrums to transmit internet. It is cheaper and allows for very long distances to be traversed. It is not as fast as ADSL, but a good reliable alternative in driving affordable access. The second challenge is relevance. There are so many applications, which come from around the world and are used by everyone. The user, however, needs applications that can actually help complete tasks. Thus, the importance of an application lies in its relevance, which in some cases originates completely from local demand. This is something the West has not thought about. The key is to work with local developers who understand the challenges and can work closely with the end users to build relevant solutions.

The skills gap is another challenge. We all know that we want more from the education system, The fastest way to do this is if companies consciously invest in programmes that would complement and strengthen the curriculum, and not just use technology, but actively participate in that industry.

To what extent has cloud computing been adopted in the Middle East and Africa?

FARAMAWY: In my view, Africa’s path towards cloud computing will be shorter than that of the Middle East. Cloud computing is important for three reasons – scale, speed and cost. It is also important to consider the existing pressure on power and skills. The result is that cloud computing is made for African and other emerging markets. These markets are set to benefit from cloud computing more than anyone, provided that the access problem is solved. I am already seeing a very interesting rate of adoption. Nigeria’s rate of adoption of cloud computing is very impressive – 75% of our new small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) users in Nigeria are cloud-based.

How can ICT best support SMEs in Africa?

FARAMAWY: SMEs should be connected to and offered applications at costs that will allow them to succeed. It is important to link them to other markets and potential buyers of their goods. The more we can help produce applications that are relevant to SMEs, the better, and I think we can all do something about pricing when working on relevance and affordability.