UP hosts US Chamber of Commerce forum on Africa’s digital economy

Posted on November 15, 2019

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Future Africa campus, in partnership with the US Chamber of Commerce’s US-Africa Business Center and Microsoft, recently hosted a multi-partner forum on digital drivers that could grow Africa’s digital economy.

The forum, themed “Digital Drivers: Enabling the Growth of Africa’s Digital Economy”, aimed “to bring together government, policy and industry experts, academics and innovators to stimulate and foster discussion on relevant topics, with the aim of highlighting the policy issues and recommendations needed to effectively address the challenges.”

The event was the second in the US-Africa Business Center’s Digital Transformation Series, launched last year in Nairobi with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, where a report was delivered on the evolution of digital economy development across Africa and the best ways in which African economies can maximise the benefits of implementing technology.

In his opening remarks, UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said that such dialogues and forums “would contribute to understanding US-South Africa opportunities in digital transformation.

“Education is essential in order to achieve transformation through a complete system overhaul, towards all things digital,” Prof Kupe said. “These will open pathways to the ICT sector, which will help tackle the youth unemployment crisis. We can stop calling these crises ‘challenges’ and start calling them ‘opportunities’.”

He outlined UP’s contribution to the different streams of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and highlighted UP’s role as a trainer of learners who are literate in the Tripartite of Literacies: “Literacy in digital technology, data literacy and human literacy importantly too, as we live in a society of human capital.”

The VC’s views were echoed by David Young, Chargé d’Affaires for the US Mission in South Africa, who spoke of equipping people to find work in the digital economy.

“We are more digitally connected than ever and therefore can overcome digital divides,” he said. “Countries like South Africa thrive on open markets, democracy and human rights: it is these freedoms that allow people to live their lives as they feel called. And this includes the right to work. Work is a fundamental dignity. Therefore we have to create jobs, hope, trade, opportunities, work, so that people young people can compete for these good jobs in the global economy.”

Microsoft’s Michael Yeh, Associate General Counsel and Regional Director, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs, also emphasised that “IT has become a strategic priority; smart cities and smart agriculture have become embedded in everything”.

“The World Education Forum highlighted AI (artificial intelligence) as being one of the main drivers in industry change. AI will displace 75 million jobs, but it will also create 120 million jobs. How do we help people make this shift? How will we equip them with the skills to participate in the labour market?”

SA Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said in her keynote address that the changing environment “did indeed need an overhaul of instruments to respond to a change in industry that is increasingly dominated by data and ecosystems of digital persons. To this end, we will be introducing new policies in a consultative process, and we invite you to participate.”

The day was broken into a public programme, with private breakaway sessions.

The public programme included “Fireside Chats”, panel-like forums on “workforce development and skills development to unlock South Africa’s ICT potential”. The chats featured experts and leaders from organisations such as Google, Cisco, Microsoft, IBM South Africa, McKinsey & Company, Harambee Africa, TransUnion, Youth Employment Services, the Presidential 4IR Commission, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, and the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies.

- Author Jonathan Tager

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