Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Vodafone Ghana, Patricia Obo-Nai joined a host of African leaders and international experts at this year’s Bruegel Annual virtual Meeting to discuss Africa’s economic recovery after COVID-19.
Bringing the private sector perspective to the discussion, Patricia Obo-Nai, disclosed that in March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ghana, Vodafone partnered with the government and citizens to save lives.
“Our six-point plan included increasing network capacity by 60 percent to ensure people stayed connected as more folks worked from home,” she said, adding that this was because they saw a 50 percent increase in data traffic elsewhere so they invested to prepare for it.
Aside putting devices in hands of health workers, Vodafone Ghana also set up a tele-centre which had 15 multilingual doctors helping citizens.
According to Patricia Obo-Nai, given the fact that a good number of Ghanaian students based at home since March and the Ghanaian president’s declaration that schools will reopen in January, 2021, Vodafone Ghana is already operating online educational support for students and has scaled up the program offering with both global and local content so more students can access the Instant Schools platform at no data cost..
“Aggregated anonymized data mobility insights apps were also deployed to aid contact tracing while adhering to privacy laws of the various jurisdictions in which Vodafone operates. In addition, the collaboration with the Ghana Statistical Services gave insights of population movements for easy contact tracing,” she said.
Touching on mobile money, said “We also worked with central banks to enhance financial inclusion. In many markets, we took mobile money fees off when funds were transferred and we increased the tier levels to enable people have easy access to more money,” Patricia Obo-Nai said.
Other interventions by the telco include extending the tier limit with the Vodafone CEO indicating “it started with Safaricom in Kenya and now there are 8 operations in African markets with about 40 million customers and we have about $14 billion yearly transactions.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, about €100 million has been pumped in by the global telecommunication entity.
Speaking on the theme for the discussions, Madam Patricia Obo-Nai noted that governments and the private sector must work for economic recovery by looking at strengthening social resilience.
“The pandemic has impacted livelihoods, trade and economic growth. 25 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are being pushed into poverty so there’s need for a deliberate effort by the private sector and government to rescue such people,” she noted.
According to Madam Obo-Nai, “this crisis is leading to rising unemployment and widening of the gap between the rich and poor as well as young and old.”
“For Africa, we have done the basic on mobile money usage but more work is being done for more people to venture into digital wallet, merchant payment etc. A billion dollars is spent yearly by Vodafone on network upgrades but infrastructure gaps with broadband require $80 to 100 billion which governments must do more to assist with,” she stated.
She stressed that with the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are tightening their budgets and restructuring sectors to receive governmental stimulus but there’s need for governments to work with the private sector to better manage the health crisis, contain the socio-political impact and aid economic recovery.
On her part, Former Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, observed that at the start of 2019, Africa was hailed as a rising continent and despite the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as well as acts of terrorism in the Sahel, the continent recorded growth.
“Decades of economic and political transformations earned the continent its credentials of a participant democracy,” she declared.
The UN World Economic Situational Prospect for 2019 put the GDP rising from 3.2 in 2018 to 3.4 in 2019 to 3.7 in 2020 with four of the largest growth countries being African.
Nonetheless 75 percent of 1.3 billion Africans face a bleak future because of rising population and limited resources which put great risk on sociopolitical stability of the states.
It is in the face of these threats that Madam Sirleaf welcomes the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which seeks to accelerate intra-African trade while boosting Africa’s trading
Earlier, Vice President Eastern & Southern Africa, World Bank Group, Hafez Ghanem, warned there was a decline regarding the GDP of most African states adding about 12.5 people of Africa fall in the poverty bracket where they face acute hunger.
He said since COVID-19 hit, many African states are losing huge revenue on commodity export with “Nigeria’s revenue falling by 70 percent because of a fall in oil prices.”
According to Mr. Ghanem, Island economies have also taken a hit such as Mauritius whose tourism sector has been greatly impacted by the pandemic. “In large economies like South Africa, industry has lost about 400,000 jobs,” he added.