Telecom Review conducted an exclusive interview with John Omo, Secretary-General at the African Telecommunications Union, shedding light on initiatives that can ensure diversity and equal opportunities for youth innovators in Africa. He also discussed ATU's plans to promote entrepreneurship in the telecommunications/ICT sector on the continent. Omo addressed the challenges and opportunities that African youth face in the ever-expanding digital landscape and outlined how the ATU can address these issues.

What initiatives can ensure diversity and equal opportunities for youth innovators across Africa?

Promoting diversity and equal opportunities for the youth requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses various aspects of the innovation ecosystem One important aspect of these initiatives involves ensuring widespread digital skills development, particularly among young individuals who are digitally well-educated, enabling them to actively engage in the digital economy.

Another essential element is to guarantee widespread internet connectivity, addressing the existing urban-rural divide. Bridging this gap by facilitating internet development in rural areas will enable young people, including those attending rural schools, to participate in the digital economy on an equal footing with their urban counterparts. Therefore, a dual focus on skills development and enhanced connectivity is vital.

Additionally, the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into educational programs is key to mainstreaming digital participation. Through incorporating ICT into the learning environment, all youth—whether in rural or urban areas—can be better prepared to actively participate in the digital economy.

How does the ATU plan to collaborate with various stakeholders to promote entrepreneurship in the telecommunications sector on the continent?

Given the scale of resources required to address Africa's substantial need for over 1 trillion US dollars to achieve comprehensive connectivity, no single institution or technology can autonomously facilitate such widespread connectivity. Consequently, the ATU emphasizes the importance of collaboration among entities, including the public and private sectors, as well as multilateral organizations.

As a membership-driven organization, ATU programs and initiatives are shaped by the needs and priorities of our members. This ensures that the Union is responsive to the diverse challenges and opportunities faced by different nations and organizations.

To this extent, we facilitate such collaborations through: regular meetings, working groups, and committees; pooling resources for joint initiatives; ensuring coordinated strategies at international meetings, and generally; through the utilization of our open-door policy which enables information sharing.

In your role, what challenges and opportunities do you foresee for African youth in the ever-expanding digital landscape, and how can the ATU address these issues?

African youth encounter numerous challenges, with one prominent issue being the digital divide. This divide is evident not only between rural and urban areas but also between the developed north and the developing south. When exams are conducted for various levels of schooling in our countries, for instance, there is a notable difference between schools with digital access and those without. These disparities, among other factors, are fueled by digital inequities, and  consequently, the digital gap hampers the educational and connectivity needs of youth in these regions.

Another challenge faced by African youth is the deficiency in skills development. Approximately 30% of our phone capacity is utilized by individuals in urban areas due to a lack of knowledge and skills to fully leverage digital tools. Skills development is crucial for enhancing the capacity of youth to participate more meaningfully in the digital economy. Currently, a significant portion of our youth primarily uses digital devices for entertainment. However, there is a substantial opportunity to upskill them, enabling them to use these tools for self-improvement, content creation and monetization which can help them improve their socio-economic well-being.

The convergence of these challenges underscores the need to establish an ecosystem that fosters innovation, skills development, and capacity building. This requires a comprehensive framework in educational institutions where mainstreaming ICT into the curriculum is imperative. Ensuring that our youth graduate from these institutions with the requisite skills to actively participate in the digital economy is essential for their success. The ATU plays a vital role in addressing these challenges, facilitating the development of strategies and initiatives that bridge the digital divide and empower African youth to thrive in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

What changes can we expect in 2024?

The primary shift anticipated in 2024 revolves around a change in mindset. The rapid evolution and emergence of new technologies will not pause for individuals to catch up.

In today's interconnected global economy, where our financial systems are intertwined, whether in the East, West, or global markets, the foremost challenge lies in enhancing public awareness campaigns. These campaigns should aim to educate the general population on how to actively and meaningfully participate in the digital economy.

Several technological advancements are on the horizon, such as the growing commercialization of 5G in Africa. This development brings forth challenges in terms of cybersecurity, given the integration of technologies like IoT and artificial intelligence. These technologies are no longer distant prospects but are already present on the African continent. We must leverage these advancements for network optimization and predicting user trends, ensuring that Africa plays a significant role in the global digital economy.

These challenges underscore the changes we can expect in the coming year. As technology continues to advance, cultivating an open mindset becomes imperative. Embracing these technologies from all perspectives will be essential for staying abreast of the evolving digital landscape and maximizing the opportunities it presents.

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