Ethiopia: Lagging Behind in Tech a Trillion Dollar Mistake: Getahun Makuria

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"I always wonder why Africa, the 2nd most populous region in the world is lagging behind in technology. We are committing a trillion dollar mistake by not harnessing technology."

Getahun Makuria (Phd), Ethiopia's minister of innovation and technology reckons at the Africa Fintech Summit held in Addis Abeba on Thursday November 21 that by lagging behind in technology and not harnessing it properly, "we are committing a trillion dollar mistake."

"Ethiopia stands 111th in world ranking in harnessing technology and innovation," Dr. Getahun said, adding, "I always wonder why Africa, the 2nd most populous region in the world is lagging behind in technology. We are committing a trillion dollar mistake by not harnessing technology."

The biannual Africa Fintech Summit is organized by Dedalus Global, an investment, communication and strategy advisory focusing on emerging market and emerging technologies.

A testament to its importance, yesterday's summit in Addis Abeba has attracted several senior government officials including Eng. Balcha Reba, Director General of Ethiopian Communication Authority, Bizunesh Bekele, Advisor at the ministry of finance, Yodahe Zemichael, principal technical Advisor at the Prime Minister office, Eyob Gebre Eyesus, Vice Governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia, Corporate Services, Dr Ephrem T. Lemango, Commissioner, Jobs Creation Commission and Dr Tesfachew Tafere, representative from Ethiopian Investment commission.

Discussing the government's eagerness to improve Ethiopia's performance in the future, Dr Getahun further said that "PM Abiy Ahmed hopes the coming generation will not think from a point of poverty, but from a point of prosperity. That is why the new party is called the Prosperity Party."

Several key sessions were held in the one day summit, including a discussion on mobile money and telecommunication. Speaking at this session Eng. Balcha Reba, Director General, Ethiopian Communication Authority (ECA) Said that Ethiopia was working "to help both Fintech and telecommunications sector. By the end of 2020 we will issue two telecommunication licenses," he said.

A reminder that the sector is still tangled in several challenges, Yemiru Chanyalew, CEO of Moneta technologies S.C./Amole, discussed the challenges he faced when navigating the Ethiopian market, from regulations to mindset and cultural attitudes toward technology, he also emphasized the importance of digitizing: "In order for mobile money and banking services to succeed in Ethiopia , we need more digitization."

A plenary session on Pan-African Fintech in the time of AFCFTA (African continental free trade area), saw a lengthy discussion in Fintech and its role in promoting Pan-Africanism discussed. Bizuneh Bekele, Advisor at the ministry of finance, Ethiopia highlighted the government's attempt to digitize its institutions. "In Ethiopia every government institution is going through the process of digitization including financial institution."

Others see saw the huge potential in Ethiopia. Gerry Rasugu, Director/M4D Sub-Saharan Africa, GSMA was one of them. "We look at the mobile money market and we see huge opportunities in Ethiopia, Egypt and Nigeria, we think of these economies as sleeping giants."

A session on Inclusion, Identity and innovation discussed the need for a united identification system and how it might affect economies in a positive manner. Yodahe Zemichael, Principal Technical Advisor at the PM's office described how the private sector was unable to contribute to this end due mainly to lack of proper policies. "In Ethiopia the government is both the biggest buyer and purchaser, the private sector is small."

But he stated that the the scene was "changing now and everyone will get a fairer share." He also explained the need for a single identification system that could benefit both the government and the public. "One of the sectors that needs digitization is the identification system, it needs to be built by the government," he added "India has built a foundational identification system that saved the government billions of dollars in spending."

Joshua Oiagara of KCB group gave a keynote speech in which he made a comparison between Kenya and Ethiopia in harnessing technology and innovation. Unlike popular perceptions, he made a strong statement describing the Kenyan economy as not so different from Ethiopia. "Kenya is still pretty much a cash economy."

The highlight of the day was the speech scheduled to be delivered by the Governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia, Dr. Yinager Dessie. However, Eyob Gebre Eyesus, Vice Governor/Corporate Service, delivered the speech instead. He discussed the reforms that the National bank was undergoing through, one of them being increasing the participation of fintech in the banking sector. "Banking business law was amended, there is a process to amend both mobile and internet banking regulations," he said and discussed at length the role technology could play in Ethiopia's next chapter. "The role of fintech should be to awaken this sleeping giant."

Throughout the summit, several startups have showcased their works to introduce their use of technologies and attract investment. The pitches were competing on a reward of 2000 USD, which went to the local entrepreneur Natnael Melaku Kokeb, Co-founder/ Head of Business Development of AXIOM financial technologies. AS

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