Uganda Should Book a Front Seat in China’s Africa Digital Drive

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By Moshi Israel

While addressing China-Africa Internet Development Forum, Deng Li, China’s Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister, reassured representatives of African and Chinese internet firms, government officials responsible for internet development, scholars, and technology experts of China’s commitment to creating a digital Africa.

Li’s comments, emphasizes a collaborative effort between Africa and China to transition Africa to a digital economy, and serves as a reminder to all that China is committed to Africa’s long-term development agenda. China has been promoting the concept of a digital Africa to African leaders, and it appears that some of them are taking notice. Uganda cannot afford to fall behind, and our government must increase investments in the information technology industry at a 5G-like pace.

The state of the future will be a digital state, a technologically advanced country that runs smartly on the internet of things (IOT), or simply put, computing devices connected to every object, from smart home security systems to connected appliances, ultra-high-speed internet, autonomous farming equipment, biometric cyber security scanners, wearable health monitors, and wireless inventory trackers. IOT is the future that China is selling to Africa, and Uganda must invest in it if it is to rise above poverty and even go beyond a middle-income country.

The remarks of Assistant Foreign Minister Deng li follow President Xi Jinping’s assurances that China and Africa will collaborate in new business forms such as digital economy, smart city, and 5G. President Xi made these remarks last year in his address to Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) where he stressed China’s vision of a Digital Africa a move that is already taking shape in some African countries.

South Africa has responded to this trend by establishing Africa’s first standalone 5G commercial network. The project is collaboration between Huawei of China and Rain (South Africa’s data-only network). Senegal has also established its National Data Centre, which has been aided by Chinese funding and technology. China has also introduced e-based platforms such as the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWPT), which is a framework aimed at making cross-border e-commerce more accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises, according to the Alibaba group (SMEs). Deng Li, Assistant Foreign Minister, also mentioned how the trade platform has brought African products to Chinese consumers.

China’s fingerprints can be found all over Africa’s digital future if one looks closely. For example, Huawei and Alibaba have launched programs such as “seeds for the future” and “Africa’s Business Heroes Competition,” which have aided in the training of young African internet experts.

Already, China’s Huawei has committed about $150million to support Uganda’s Huawei Seeds for the future programme. Through the program, Ugandan’s youth will be trained digital skills.

Uganda should be a keen observer to these trends and be ready to jump on board because by all indicators, the technology train is warming up to leave the station. As per the remarks of Mr. Deng Li, China is wasting no time and has announced that the country is ready to work with Africa to ‘formulate and implement a China-Africa Partnership Plan on Digital Innovation.’  This plan involves six important areas of focus as laid out in Mr. Deng Li’s remarks.

To summarize, the partnership will focus on growing the digital economy, strengthening digital infrastructure, promoting digital education and digital inclusion, jointly maintaining digital security and enhancing digital governance capacity, and finally developing cooperation platforms to promote digital progress through exchanges.

On the continent, Africa as a whole is already benefiting from China’s technology advancement and cooperation. In December 2000, Ethiopia launched her second satellite (ET-SMART-RSS) which was built and launched with assistance of China. Such innovations and support coupled with other plans such as China’s announced China-Africa Internet Development and Cooperation Forum.

As Bill Gates famously stated, ‘the internet is becoming the town square for tomorrow’s global village.’ As a result, Uganda’s National Development Strategy should be built on a Digital Transformation Framework, with the goal of building a digital economy that will ease and improve transportation, manufacturing, education, and provide jobs for many young people.

The writer is a junior research fellow at Development Watch Centre, a Foreign Policy Think Tank and a graduate of International Relations and Diplomacy




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