Visions and Voices

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The discourse relating to Africa has recently changed from ‘how to mobilize’ aid to ‘how best to benefit’ out of its emerging growth. In the midst of optimism for the black continent, the importance of technological development to help the continent’s population fast forward to prosperity has been emphasized by both African and global leaders, experts and businesses. Cisco Systems – the American multinational technology giant based in San Jose, California, Los specializing in the designing, manufacturing and distribution of networking equipments and solutions – is one of such international companies that is lining up to grow with Africa. OMER REDI, talked Anthony Vonsee, Cisco’s Managing Director for Africa, on the margins of the World Economic Forum on Africa.
Capital: There have been growing interests directed to Africa recently. Most companies explain their focus on Africa with the idea that while the rest of the world is under economic crises and market saturation, Africa presents the next frontier for growth and prosperity. Does Cisco share this view?
Anthony Vonsee: Yes very much so. Africa is on the brink of a major transformation. Over the last decade, the continent was home to six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies, and the outlook for the region remains bright at a time when the rest of the world is facing major political and economic challenges. However, attaining Africa’s aspirations in a new global context will require bold and actionable ideas, as well as strong leadership on regional, national and industry levels.
Capital: How do you plan to involve in that?
Vonsee: Cisco is focused on driving sustainable growth in Africa through local investments and community orientated contributions. Through long-term commitment and investment in Africa, Cisco helps governments, organizations and citizens build the future through the intelligent application of information communications technology (ICT), using the network as the platform. Africa provides a key growth opportunity for Cisco as the network is becoming the primary driver of not only IT, but also all forms of communications. African economies are at different stages of development but they all face the challenge of global competitiveness and the opportunity that IT/networks offer for them to leap frog stages.
Capital: From a brief I got from Cisco’s communication team, your major presence in Africa seems to be through the Cisco Networking Academy. Tell me more about you current status in Africa and your future plans?
Vonsee: The growth of networks has created a shortage of people who are qualified to build, design, and maintain the infrastructure needed to communicate, do business, and when critical human needs require it, save lives. This shortage exists worldwide, particularly in emerging countries where networks are being built to aid in economic development and growth. Likewise, people need access to more and better job opportunities and training that will prepare them for the global, technology-driven economy.
Cisco does not offer to build factories, rather we work to develop an educated local pool of talent that can build and manage sustained networks in the future. African countries need knowledge workforces and are focused on improving education.
The Cisco Networking Academy uses a public-private partnership model to create the “world’s largest classroom.” Cisco partners with educational institutions, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations, governments, and community centers that provide classroom space, computer lab equipment, and qualified instructors. Cisco provides online curricula, teacher training, and professional development for instructors. Networking Academy helps students prepare to assume entry-level ICT jobs, pursue additional training or education, and earn globally recognized certification so they can maintain networks that form the backbone of today’s and tomorrow’s global economy.
Capital: Cisco is among the leading technologies of the world. How would that benefit the continent?
Vonsee: Technology can drive the productivity and standard of living for communities and countries in Africa and have a transformative impact on businesses, governments and societies.
Business and government leaders in Africa are beginning to understand the correlation between productivity and GDP growth and the need to build out the IT infrastructure to position their economies, businesses and jobs for the future.
IT investments, especially in the network, are a great enabler for social inclusion and education. Connectivity helps people to interact more effectively, helps governments to improve public services and helps businesses to reduce global barriers.
Countries across Africa are increasingly investing in the basic network infrastructures in order to improve the quality of life through new services that empower citizens and businesses. Cisco, working with its partners, is playing a vital role in helping countries achieve this.
Capital: Other than the possible market potential for Cisco in Africa due to the continent’s obviously low level of development in technology, do you see Africa as an emerging breeding ground of technologists whom you can accommodate and use for your market somewhere else?
Vonsee: In the race for global competitiveness, technology is the difference. As African countries race to move to the next phase of development and become more globally competitive, it is technology that will make the difference. African countries are vying for global competitiveness, and the network can give them the edge they need.
According to Cisco’s 2012 -2016 Visual Networking Index (VNI) Middle East and Africa will have the highest regional mobile data traffic growth rate globally with a CAGR of 104 percent, or 36-fold growth. Middle Eastern and African mobile data traffic will grow 2 times faster than Middle Eastern and African fixed IP traffic from 2011 to 2016.
Capital: What are you major challenges in Africa?
Vonsee: Africa needs to lay down its broadband infrastructure now. Tomorrow will be too late – broadband, which is often taken for granted in developed countries, will provide the catalyst for African consumers, business and government to realize the benefits of connectivity. It will drive down price, but more importantly provide a platform for Africans to collaborate and compete with developed nations.
The undersea cables (Seacom, TEAM, MainOne) will transform African business.
Capital: Tell me about Cisco in Ethiopia, future plans, opportunities and challenges.
Vonsee: The long term strategic priorities for Cisco in not only in Ethiopia but in the entire Africa remain:
  • Service Providers – Bring high bandwidth access and IP services to South Africa.
  • Education – Education and training as a key enabler to empower the next generation
  • Healthcare – To improve the citizen’s quality of life throughout Africa
  • Critical National Infrastructure – Heavy efforts to sustain natural resources
  • Defense and National Security – To enhance national security and strengthen defense capabilities
  • Mining and Gas – Capitalize on income and use it as the fuel to grow a diversified economy.
(Omer Redi is a Correspondent for Inter Press Service, and Media and Communications Consultant based in Addis Ababa. He can be reached through [email protected])