The CEO of Telkom Kenya was recently in Kigali, Rwanda to attend the Transform Africa Summit. He spoke to Rwanda Today’s JEAN-PIERRE AFADHALI about data affordability in Africa, connectivity challenges, data privacy, security, OTTs and building digital economies in Africa
Below are excerpts
What do you think can be done to make data more affordable in Africa?
Data affordability is always a perennial goal for any telecom because the more affordable data is the more customers we have, and more importantly the more utilisation of that data by our customers for their own use.
Scale, volume and more people signing up is one of the fastest ways to reduce the cost of data. Technology itself is becoming cheaper and cheaper with time.
But some say telecom operators in Africa use investment in infrastructure as an excuse to make enormous profit and hike prices to reap from subscribers?
That is no true. The telecom sector is very competitive; they don’t have the luxury of raising prices when they are competing so hard with each other for customers.
In most countries, you will find three or four telcos competing, and when you are in that kind of tight competition you don’t have the capacity to just raise prices. The only area where you could say is unique, is mobile financial services, because there is a monopoly.
There are still connectivity challenges despite investments in infrastructure. What can be done to increase connectivity in Africa?
Africa is a very vast continent and it is difficult to connect everywhere. There are many parts of this vast continent where it is not viable to lay a network, because you are sinking a cost that you cannot recover.
Therefore, it is up to governments in collaboration with telcos to find a way of subsiding these other areas, where you are not going there because of commercial reasons, you are going there for public interest reasons.
That is why you have theUniversal Service Funds, which is geared towards addressing those areas that are not commercially viable for network rollout, but people live there and they need at least voice.
There is also an issue of security and data protection. Some telecom companies have been punished by regulators for similar issues. How are you dealing with data protection?
Data protection is a very serious issue and it is a global one. In Africa we’re still grappling with the balance between protecting and securing people’s data and respecting their privacy, while transparently utilising that same data to give them the most efficient and relevant services.
It is a balance that will need some regulation and some laws to be put in place, which focus on protecting and securing data without hampering the ability to transparently utilise that data to give better services to the consumers.
Some human-rights organisations have opposed mandatory SIM card registration for security and privacy concerns. What do you make of that?
I know it is a very political issue because every government has got the cardinal responsibility of securing its citizens. So how do we empower governments to protect citizens in this age of technological advancement and social media?
It is the same thing as data protection, it is a delicate balance and it is a difficult question to answer.
People have different views, there are those who believe privacy at all cost, civil rights, liberty at all cost, and there are others who believe security and protection at all cost. Most of us are somewhere in between, but there is no one with a silver bullet.
5G is a global technology trend especially in developed economies. Do you think Africa will soon adopt 5G network?
I think 5G will definitely come; it may not come as fast as some people expect but it is inevitable.
What are key challenges telecom companies face in Africa?
The immediate challenge right now is keeping at pace with rolling out the network and dealing with tight legislation for value added services, but the emerging challenge now is Over the Top Technologies. They are consuming the most valuable part of the value chain.
What do you think about social media taxation?
I don’t agree with it. I think social media is a mode of facilitating the things that ought to be taxed. So we don’t tax the mode itself.
We still have to buy food, cars, build houses etc, which are taxed, so you don’t tax the mode that facilitates and makes all those things more convenient and easier to access.
But some say that social media taxation is dealing with OTT?
If it’s a business it should be taxed. Everyone should pay tax, but I as a user should not be taxed. If I am using WhatsApp you can’t tax me, but WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook businesses should pay corporate tax like other companies.