Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, has called on leaders on the continent to create an environment that will allow innovative Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) and entrepreneurs to flourish and access regional, as well as global opportunities.
“This will contribute to local economic development, with local innovation often creating solutions that are relevant for our local circumstances and challenges. Often, such solutions can resonate globally too,” Ndabeni-Abrahams said.
Addressing the virtual roundtable discussion with Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministers on Tuesday, the Minister said local innovation and SMME development can lead to an increase in the continent’s local intellectual property, higher value employment creation, and increased local and regional investment and production, as well as exports.
“It is critical to our future as Africa to find ways to unlock the potential of local innovation,” the Minister said.
Ndabeni-Abrahams emphasised the importance of creating a conducive environment for young entrepreneurs to convert their ideas into successful businesses.
“We need to harness the energy and creativity of our young aspiring entrepreneurs in the region. We must find ways to help them to develop their business plans and skills, and to create a supportive ecosystem that will allow them to develop.”
The Minister said young people need access to finance and markets.
“Their success will encourage others, and will unleash the creative potential of our youth to solve the developmental challenges we face. Our youthful population is a significant demographic asset. However, they need opportunities to shine. Their success will assist in the upliftment of our people and our economies.”
The Minister hosted the roundtable discussion with the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Ministers as part of Africa Day celebrations.
African Continental Free Trade Area
Ndabeni-Abrahams acknowledged that there is much work to be done for the continent to fully benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
“We need to strengthen the infrastructure that links our economies, businesses and people together. This must include not only the transport infrastructure, but also the ICT sector. ICTs will be critical in linking business and people together, providing the first step in strengthening regional integration.
“It is therefore important to continue to prioritise and strengthen our programmes to build our regional and national ICT infrastructure and the digital economy. The implementation of the African Digital Transformation strategy will no doubt be critical to support regional integration,” the Minister said.
The strategy aims to harness digital technologies and innovation to transform African societies and economies to promote Africa’s integration, generate inclusive economic growth, stimulate job creation, break the digital divide, and eradicate poverty for the continent’s socio-economic development and ensure Africa’s ownership of modern tools of digital management.
“In particular, we must look to create an enabling environment, and develop appropriate policies and regulations for the sector that will support the development of our digital infrastructure, digital skills and capacity-building, entrepreneurship and innovation.
“We must also address the cross cutting issues (digital content and applications, digital ID, emerging technologies, cybersecurity, and personal data protection, research and development) to ensure we transform our digital future,” she said.
The Minister said the draft African e-commerce strategy will provide the basis for dramatically improving e-commerce in the region.
“This could be critical to ensure African countries benefit from this rapidly growing sector, both in terms of participating meaningfully in the logistics supply chain, and by providing platforms for SMMEs and manufacturers to benefit from intra-regional trade and international exports through e-commerce.
“This will include implementing measures to modernise our customs services in line with the World Customs Organisation, and capacitating our postal services through the Universal Postal Union (UPU),” the Minister said.