Just weeks after launching a Big Data solution to trace the spread of Covid-19 as African countries open up their skies and economies, the African Union has moved to devise more technological remedies to jumpstart the continent’s trade and industries.
The organisation, which previously unveiled PanaBios – a bio-surveillance and bio-screening suite – that ensures continuity of business in the region, has now moved all Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) operations online.
The African Union Commission is now working closely with the private sector to address some of the most urgent challenges facing the continent at the moment, by coming up with the African Virtual Trade-Diplomacy Platform (AVDP), itself a part of the broader AVRIVA (African Virtual Resilient-Integration for a Vibrant Africa) framework being developed under the umbrella of the AfroChampions Initiative.
This comes as most governments on the continent advise their citizens to prepare for a future where most business operations will be conducted online, terming the coronavirus as the catalyst that could speed up digital transformation.
AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga told Digital Business that the move towards digital solutions for the 55- member state intergovernmental union is critical even as the union commits to meet the AfCFTA operationalisation deadline of January 1, 2021.
“This will help to ensure that African countries are able to meet the new date for the start of trading under the AfCFTA of 1st January 2021, as set by Africa Heads of State and Governments who are strongly committed to getting the AfCFTA agenda back on track after the postponement of the start of trading initially set for July 1, 2020,” he said.
The concerns about the timely commencement of AfCFTA trading come at a time when countries all over Africa are getting ready to reopen their borders and economies, and a coordinated and harmonised effort is therefore urgently required to prevent confusion in the integration agenda.
The commission is hopeful that digital technologies will keep playing “a very powerful role in driving positive cooperation” among member States for a safe, smart and harmonised reopening process.
“In this regard, the mandate of the High-level Expert Committee is being broadened to include a review of the various options available to Member States, including digital solutions, which could be used to roll out trade next January,” a statement from the AU reads.
PanaBIOS is already being utilised in Ghana, where it’s being piloted, to manage congestion in workplaces and other high-risk locations while enabling digitising cross-border travel health clearance to suppress disease importation and transmission.
The platform was launched on July 29 by a consortium under the AU’s Open Corridors Program with support from Pan-African Institutions such as the African Economic Zones Organisation, AfroChampions, the AU Department of Trade and Industry, Koldchain and national government initiatives, with the Ghanaian government’s Trancop programme leading the way.
Ghana presidential adviser on health, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare said their government began piloting the use of the application in June.
“I am sure every country will like it because nobody wants importation of the disease. All cases in Africa were imported and if we are not careful, this easing of businesses could lead to more importation of the virus into Africa,” Dr Nsiah-Asare
PanaBIOS has the capacity to monitor and model the congestion, thereby mapping how the virus is spreading.
There are other digital solutions being adopted as well, key among them is the deployment of a technology framework for aligning e-commerce platforms, such as the already popular African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) developed by the Africa CDC, and the African e-commerce platform Sokokuu promoted by AeTrade Group.
As Africa aggressively pursues smart solutions, concerns shift to cybercrimes which have been the bane of adoption of e-commerce, with the continent suffering financially due to a vulnerable cyber space, leading to losses in the tune of Sh350 billion last year alone, according to IT consultancy firm Serianu.
The AU, however, is seeking to seal such loopholes by implementing a broad initiative to enhance cybersecurity in multilateral affairs on the continent.
This, the union believes, will shield governments, the private sector and citizens against the shockwaves of cyber gangs that keep spoofing and eavesdropping for user data over the internet, especially on its newly launched e-commerce platforms that are free for use by every member state.
“Usually, the motivation for many cyber criminals is the cash being transacted online. If you leave your payment systems open, then they can pounce anytime. It is a wise measure to secure all e-commerce payment gateways,” Timothy Oriedo, chief executive of local data analytics firm Predictive Analytics Lab says.
Serianu places Nigeria as the hardest hit by cyber attackers with losses of Sh64 billion, followed by Kenya with Sh21 billion and Tanzania with Sh9.9 billion.
The attacks range from simple email scams to large-scale theft of customer financial data using malware and ransom attacks. These have had wide-ranging effects, including financial losses, disruption of businesses and government servives. In 2017, for example, many companies in Nigeria, Egypt, Angola and South Africa were viciously attacked during the infamous global WannaCry ransomware attack, which used a ‘crypto worm’ to encrypt data on computers running the Windows operating system and demand ransom payments.
Under a secure and robust cloud based e-trade system, director of Africa CDC Mr John Nkengasong says more confidence will be felt as citizens shop and pay for medicine online, as governments maintain their directives on avoiding contact and social distancing.