By Nick Read,
Vodafone Group CEO at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, United Kingdom
Digital infrastructure and services are the key engine of growth and a catalyst for economic prosperity and improving the lives for all Africans. They offer the opportunity to leapfrog in development and boost competitiveness and productivity in agriculture, manufacturing and services. They also can play a pivotal role in education, health, and banking the unbanked.
The case is extremely robust. The UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development in 2019 estimates that expanding broadband by 10% would yield a 2.5% increase in GDP per capita. Confirming the once-in-a-generation change possible by digitally enabling every individual, business and government.
Vodafone and its local companies – Vodacom and Safaricom – are part of two transformative African innovations in the last 20 years – mobile communications and financial services. We now have more than 170 million mobile customers across eight African countries. And our mobile financial platform M-Pesa has over 39 million customers making over 11 billion transactions worth US$135 billion last year.
Africa need to connect to a better future. Vodafone is committed to do its part. This aligns with our purpose - which are the values we stand for and high standards we hold ourselves to account - to build an inclusive digital society, in all countries we operate in, while halving our environmental impact by 2025.
This will also require us all - private sector, governments and NGOs - to come together in a true partnership in the following critical areas:
First, Africa will need to overcome its sizeable infrastructure gap. The UN Broadband Commission estimates that achieving universal broadband internet connectivity in Africa by 2030 requires an additional US$ 109 billion. This underscores the need to maximise the attraction of private investment in infrastructure that will form the backbone of Africa’s digital transformation.
Europe and Africa are Vodafone’s homes. We have always been committed to invest in Africa. We have invested €1 billion on average in each of the last three years, with 4G networks launched in all of our African markets and we want to continue this level of investment for the next few years to expand coverage & start to trial 5G.
We are ready to engage in a constructive dialogue and partnership with governments on how to ensure an enabling, stable, and pro-investment regulatory and taxation frameworks for digital society. For example, some African countries are now lagging others in important decisions on allocating radio spectrum for mobile data and broadband services. We need to overcome these obstacles.
Second, inclusion for all in digital services is important to us. We are committed to working side by side with governments, industry, and NGOs to find solutions to close the connectivity and digital gaps within countries. But the high cost of infrastructure and devices, and our industry’s limited returns on capital, works against this objective. Vodafone is therefore pursuing innovative projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique to lower costs through new more efficient, open network technologies. We are also exploring ways of increasing infrastructure sharing and co-investment partnerships, and are working with vendors to reduce the cost of handsets and tablets. We would welcome your support in these efforts, which would bring connectivity to far more Africans.
Third, we need to put African data in the service of transforming African economies, improving productive capacity, increasing trade and enhancing competitiveness. We are leveraging big data for key sectors and collaborating with entrepreneurs. For example, Safaricom’s DigiFarm service in Kenya provides a free platform for information, markets and input credit, which can significantly increase the yields and income of smallholder farmers as well as allow them accessing regional value chains.
Fourth, we need to continue to drive financial inclusion, supported by an enabling regulatory framework, as a means of empowering citizens and promoting SMEs to expand their businesses and transition from the informal to the formal economy. Mobile money is achieving financial inclusion at unprecedented level, with clear development dividends. MIT has attributed M-Pesa alone for lifting 2% of Kenya’s population out of absolute poverty.
Fifth, we need to utilise the power of digital to increase access to various public services to enhance citizens living conditions and employment prospects, with clear local content and supportive of government’s priorities. For example, in Egypt, we’re partnering on digital patient records in the government’s new universal health insurance programme. In Ghana, our ‘Data for Good’ service with the Ministry of Health uses aggregated data to track migration patterns and allow better management of epidemics. We are also partnering with governments on digital skills and education projects - for example, the zero-rated e-schools curriculum in South Africa.
My core message is one of true public-private partnership between governments, industry and NGOs to come together with the objective of unlocking the full potential of digital society in Africa. As Vodafone, we will be a close and committed partner.