Lessons from 2017 Gulf Technology Week

Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata Jnr

Gitex technology week is one of the world’s most attended technology events and unarguably the biggest in this part of the world and the Middle East.

This is one annual event that I usually look forward to attending basically because of the mind boggling innovations that are usually showcased.

Unfortunately, Africa aside Nigeria, is usually poorly represented at this event for a number of reasons which you may already know. However, it is my opinion that successful African companies should see platforms such as this as a means to forming new global partnerships.

I believe that Africa needs to start talking less and doing more to lift Africa from the doldrums by taking advantage of technology and emulating countries that have leapfrogged and are now using technology to set the pace even for far more advanced countries.

The United Arab Emirates is an example of a country that is blazing the trail when it comes to technology. I sort of think that GITEX  as far as the UAE is concerned is a subtle way of setting the pace for the rest of the world and at the same time selling Dubai as the financial and tourism hub of the region.

Ever heard of the Dubai Smart City Project? A good number of Africans may really not understand what a smart city truly means because, quite frankly, it may be close to what you’d see in sci-fi movies.

However, Dubai is making the idea of a smart city a reality and this much was revealed through the various demo sessions that officials of the project took us through.

The Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency, Isa Ibrahim, led other government officials both at the federal and state levels including yours truly to tour the massive Dubai smart city project exhibition pavilion because of his conviction that Nigeria should set the pace when it comes to technology development in Africa.

The fact is that what we saw exhibited was not exactly rocket science, but a result of careful planning and unwavering dedication towards a vision of staying ahead of the rest. One of the officials told us that Dubai aims to be the very first city that would actually make multiple use cases of block chain technology a reality.

The official said, “The smart city research team came up with 19 use cases (problems being faced today) and out of them, two use cases have gone live on block chain.”

One service that caught my attention was the one designed to simplify company registration processes using block chain. If I juxtapose this vision with a country like Nigeria, whose Vice President signed a number of executive orders to improve the country’s ease of doing business and yet a close friend has been unable to register a company with the Corporate Affairs Commission for close to three months now, it is certainly not a good tale.

Let me point out that the leadership may mean well but a lot of bureaucratic bottlenecks in the system will make such policies difficult to implement. This is why I believe that the one key step is to quickly digitise as many government agencies as possible.

During the tour, another innovation caught my interest. The project is called UAE Digital ID, which is pretty much similar to what National Identity Management Commission is doing in Nigeria.

However, in the case of UAE, the digital ID project will ensure that citizens enjoy seamless e-government services, using a single login ID that will give them access to all government agencies online.

I have always held the position that the problem of Nigeria has nothing to do with ideas but implementation. For example, I have been hearing of the NIMC project long before the idea of BVN or compulsory SIM card registration kicked off, but the question is; why would government announce plans to create a national ID card project and yet various agencies would be busy duplicating efforts thereby wasting resources?

What is most perplexing is that foreign companies are usually contracted to provide these solutions to critical government agencies that collect and manage the data and they make it difficult, if not extremely impossible, for our country to wriggle out of the contract.

This is why I commend the effort of the Director General of NITDA towards sanitising the industry through proper regulation and oversight functions. A situation where Nigerians are not given opportunities to develop and provide these solutions is highly unacceptable.

In a quest to find out what is propelling Dubai to rapidly adopt disruptive technology, I had a quick chat with one of the top officials of the Dubai smart city project, Ahmed Shahrooj, who told me that the leadership simply does not believe in position papers or long talks, but in action.

He said, “While other countries are planning and holding conferences, we are already implementing disruptive ideas and today, our city is being used as a benchmark for technological innovation all over the world.”

One state in Nigeria that is working hard to develop a smart city is Lagos State and its commissioner, Femi Olubiyi, who was also part of the team in Dubai expressed joy at what he saw in Dubai and said Lagos State was committed to making the smart city project a reality.

During our chat while the tour was on, I asked him how Lagos intends to achieve this goal with the epileptic power supply in the country today. He replied, “Lagos is proactively investing is an embedded power plant to tackle the issue of power supply.”

I commend NITDA and its leadership for showing up each year at GITEX but I believe we need to get back to the drawing board in order to ensure that future participations are more impactful. As far as I am concerned, Nigeria has all it takes to lead the rest of Africa in the race for digital supremacy but that is if we get our act right. Rwanda and Kenya are not sleeping, though!

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