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MTN boss urges collective action for Africa’s digital economy growth

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MTN Ghana’s CEO, Stephen Blewett, is rallying leaders, innovators, and businesses to unite in advancing solutions that drive the transformation towards a sustainable and inclusive digital economy in Africa.

Blewett emphasizes the importance of investing in innovative products and services such as affordable remittance solutions, digital payments, savings, lending, insurance, and investment products.

These investments, he believes, will unlock significant opportunities for startups and SMEs, crucial players in Africa’s economic landscape.

Speaking at the opening of the 3i Africa Summit in Africa on the theme ‘Unleashing Africa’s Fintech and Digital Economic Potential’, he said “To achieve this, us as leaders, innovators, businesses, financiers and investors must come together to facilitate the implementation of the solutions needed to accelerate this transformation and create a sustainable and inclusive digital economy for Africa.

We must invest in new products and services to enable affordable remittance solutions, digital payments, savings, lending, insurance, and investment products. These services offer considerable opportunities for start-ups and SMEs which form the backbone of Africa’s economy.”

Further, he indicated that the theme “Unleashing Africa’s Fintech and Digital Economic Potential” lies at the core of MTN’s mission to drive connectivity and inclusion across the continent and Ghana specifically.

“Our strategic intent is to lead digital solutions for Africa’s progress with our core belief that everyone deserves the benefit of a modern connected life. I believe that being here, we all subscribe in our ways to this belief.”

Africa’s fintech ecosystem is the engine that will drive its digital revolution and economic development in the coming years, he noted.

Fintech can stimulate local economies and drive progress across the continent in several ways – financial inclusion, innovation and entrepreneurship, job creation, cross-border transactions and payments, digital identity and security, agriculture and rural development, government services, investment, and funding, as well as digital and financial literacy.

According to him, the success of Africa’s digital economy hinges on joint endeavors to innovate, attract investment, and generate positive outcomes. As leaders, it is imperative to champion these endeavors through support for startups, advocacy for policy reform, investment in infrastructure, and facilitation of collaboration among stakeholders.

“I am confident that by working together, we can forge a digital Africa that not only prospers but also stands as a model of inclusive and sustainable development.”

The success of services like MTN’s Mobile Money and Vodafone and Safaricom’s M-pesa provide sufficient evidence of the ability of fintech to revolutionize business on the continent and provide millions of people with access to essential financial services.

Despite these gains, Africa lags far behind the world in mobile adoption and innovation.

Constraints such as low infrastructure coverage, affordability of data and smartphones, and lack of digital skills training continue to inhibit access to the Internet among vulnerable groups, especially women. We must therefore make every effort to remove these bottlenecks and close the usage gap by improving data coverage and lowering the cost of data and data-enabled devices especially in rural and low-income areas and enhance digital literacy.

From mobile money to e-commerce, Africa is experiencing an era of unprecedented technological advancement.

The World Bank in its January 2024 Results Brief reports that 160 million Africans gained broadband internet access between 2019 and 2022. There was a 115% increase in internet users between 2016 and 2021 in Sub-Saharan Africa alone while 191 million additional individuals made or received a digital payment between 2014 and 2021.

Africa leads the world in mobile banking with the highest number of services, accounts, and transactions. Fintech has allowed millions of unbanked people to access financial services in areas where traditional banking services are absent. The continent boasts more than 760 million accounts that generate more than $830 billion in transactions per year.

The stark reality is that across the African continent, less than a third of the population has access to broadband connectivity. To increase access, mobile network operators must invest heavily in their infrastructure. The GSMA projects operator CAPEX to reach $1.5 trillion between 2023 to 2030 globally. It further reports that Africa will require $75 billion to develop 4G and 5G networks over the next 7 years to meet customer demand.

The World Bank estimates that $100 billion is required to achieve universal, affordable, and high-quality internet access by 2030. Mobile operators in sub-Saharan Africa are putting in their fair share. They invest $6-$8 billion per year in capex, which is close to 20% of their revenues.

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