South Africa’s hosting of the ITU Telecom World 2018, the annual conference of the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technology in Durban this month will do much to contribute to the value of the nation brand.
South Africa’s flagship initiatives to support information and communication technology and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises development position it as the ideal host nation for the annual conference which brings together 193 member states, regulators, leading academic institutions and about 700 tech companies.
For starters, it’s the first time the event has been held on the continent, highlighting South Africa’s potential to investors in the digital age.
It is also an opportunity for President Cyril Ramaphosa, to drive home the message that South Africa’s information and communication technology sector is thriving thanks to sector-specific dynamics that make it an innovation hub for the continent, as he sets out to attract investment of $100 billion into South Africa over the next five years.
With digital transformation gaining momentum, telecommunications remained the leading sector by investment in Africa, attracting almost one-fifth of foreign direct investment projects on the continent, according to Ernst & Young’s 2017 Attractiveness Programme Africa. Most of the activity was centred in South Africa, where foreign direct investment projects more than doubled to 41 in 2016 from 19 in the previous year. In fact, South Africa ranks as the most technologically developed country in Africa in the 2018 Global Innovation Index.
Some of the world’s biggest tech giants – Microsoft, Oracle, Google, IBM – have established a firm presence in South Africa, and have used this to successfully springboard into the rest of Africa. But it’s also the small tech start-ups that present an opportunity for international investors to seed disruptive technologies.
The expansion of internet and broadband access, alongside exponential growth in smartphone penetration, has seen the gap between its formal and informal information and communication technology markets in South Africa closing.
Entrepreneurs have also seized the opportunity to develop disruptive technologies to drive financial inclusion, and grow and enhance service delivery in sectors such as health and education.
Many of these innovations have attracted global attention and will be of interest to members of the ITU, which is committed to connecting all the world’s people – wherever they live and whatever their means.
President Ramaphosa has also emphasised that South Africa’s prosperity as a nation depends on its ability to take full advantage of rapid technological change. His call for the establishment of a digital industrial revolution commission comprising government, the private sector and civil society shows it is top of his agenda in reigniting the economy.
Indeed, research has shown that performance of a country’s information and communication technology sector has an important role to play in influencing public perception about a country, particularly among potential investors.
There is a causal relationship between a country’s performance of a country’s information and communication technology landscape and attracting foreign direct investment, demonstrating the importance of the sector in contributing to long-term economic growth.
The hosting of the ITU Telecom Conference also dovetails with the implementation of the South African government’s national Digital Society SA strategy, which aims to position the country as a significant player in the development of information and communication technology. This is set to accelerate uptake of technology in all socioeconomic sectors, increase inclusion, and transform the country into a fully digital society.
Key initiatives include fostering inclusive development, stimulating public and private infrastructure and providing affordable universal access to devices and services. South Africa is well positioned to become one of the leading developers of local content on the continent, with measures to develop and protect local intellectual property, and a massive skills development programme to underpin the growth of information and communication technology throughout society.
Exciting projects such as the department of telecommunications and postal services’ internet-for-all project, launched together with the World Economic Forum and more than 80 stakeholders form the public, private and community sectors, show how South Africa is at the forefront of innovation in improving access to affordable internet connectivity. This infrastructure project is premised on supporting local entrepreneur’s kiosks to help more people to access the internet.
It’s these national projects, with a commitment to developing South Africa’s information and communication technology sector, and particular focus on youth and women entrepreneurs and driving job creation, innovation and socioeconomic growth that showcase our nation’s possibilities and ultimately enhance the country’s reputation among those that matter.
• Linda Magapatona-Sangaret is Brand South Africa’s chief marketing officer