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CNN’s Connecting Africa explores Africa’s telecommunications industry

The latest episode of Connecting Africa, CNN International’s Eleni Giokos looked at how Africa’s telecommunications industry is transforming business and gearing up for a more interconnected continent.

Giokos interviews the CEOs of several major telecommunications companies and sees how their products are helping traders across Africa.

First, Giokos meets Ralph Mupita, President and CEO of the MTN Group, Africa’s largest mobile network. Mupitasays that investment in the telecommunications industry is only going to increase in the years ahead, “We’re going to spend approximately $10 billion over the next five years to ensure that Africa has the infrastructure to power its growth.”

The African Continental Free Trade Area agreement has opened up trade across the continent and across many areas of industry. The telecommunications sector is a key part of this and Mupita discusses why, “I would argue that it’s not possible that we get the kind of growth that is anticipated under the agreement without the telecommunications sector.”

Looking to the future, MTN is hoping to harness 5G technology across Africa. Mupita speaks about his goals, “5G is coming to Africa. We’re not going to get left behind. And as you start thinking about future technologies and how they can drive African growth, we will be right there as MTN for sure, and looking at how these technologies can be harnessed to drive socioeconomic progress in the various countries that we operate in.”

Next, Giokos visits Vodacom, the second most valuable brand in Africa. Vodacom executives are thinkingbig after a 40% jump in mobile traffic during the pandemic.  ShameelJoosub, Group CEO of Vodacom, talks about their new financial services ‘super-app’ VodaPay, “It’s creating the opportunity for you to trade way beyond your geographical area. Before, if you had a physical store, you were limited to a certain geography. What this does is it opens it up, firstly within their broader country, but also there’s no reason why someone sitting in Nigeria cannot supply someone in Kenya. And moving into this free trade environment just allows companies to trade across multiples geographies.”

East Africa is home to one of the world’s leading mobile money platforms M-Pesa. It was pioneered by East Africa’s largest telco Safaricom and is now co-owned by Vodacom. Peter Ndegwa, Safaricom CEO says that he believes M-Pesa has the potential to become Africa’s leading mobile money platform. He tells Giokos about how the platform is facilitating cross-border trade, “We have started to sign contracts with companies such as Visa to create interoperability and also to enable trade. We also need to make sure that we reduce the cost, the cross-border costs, of interacting.”

Undersea cables connect Africa to the internet. The MainOne cable stretches from Portugal to West Africa with landings along the route in Dakar, Abidjan, Accra and Lagos. Main One is a broadband infrastructure company providing telecoms services and network solutions across West Africa.

Founder Funke Opeke describes the importance of their infrastructure work, ““When you look at internet penetration in our region, it was hovering in the 10% range when we started. Today, it’s 40% and growing, so clearly a lot more eyeballs on the internet. The big players are all here. The global tech giants want to be in Nigeria.”

Giokos also meets Sokowatch Group CEO Daniel Yu to explore how Africa’s informal retail sector is becoming digitised. The tech startup is helping retailers connect to large pan-African manufacturers to make them more agile and competitive. Yu tells Giokos, “I see our aim as being able to come in and provide small retail stores with the tools, with the technology, with the services to unlock their potential.”

Around 18,000 small business use Sokowatch. Angela Nzioki, Sokowatch Kenya CEO, explains the company’s success, “Typically, most retailers in Africa really struggle when it comes to access to goods and services, so where Sokowatch becomes really integral in that process is because we’ve taken the power of ecommerce and technology and really put this in the hands of the retailers.”

From billions of dollars pumped into infrastructure to mobile payment platforms, Africa’s digital transformation has the potential to spur economic growth and give rise to new tech and telecommunications companies across the continent.