Ethiopia: Task Force Emerges to Push Digital Transactions

Since starting operations three weeks ago, the new Task Force has focused on eight approaches that use technology to resume daily activities throughout the country. The team includes members from 20 institutions and is led by the Ministry of Innovation & Technology.

The National Technology Task Force, under the wing of the National Ministerial Committee, has emerged to promote digital transactions and supply key information about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Since starting operations three weeks ago, the new Task Force has focused on eight approaches that use technology to resume daily activities throughout the country. The team includes members from 20 institutions and is led by the Ministry of Innovation & Technology.

The main agenda of this Task Force is to establish a platform to lessen physical contact, to decrease the number of cash transactions, and provide key information on the virus, according to Ahmedin Mohammed (PhD), state minister for Innovation & Technology and coordinator of the Task Force

"We have consulted with government offices, the private tech sector, and the banking sector to work in collaboration to eliminate the bottlenecks of regulations and hasten operations," he said.

The first task of the team is providing the latest information on the status of the virus at the global, national and regional scale through a website and this team. Led by Ethio telecom's chief information officer, the team will utilise social media platforms to disseminate information and integrate responses concerning the virus.

"The initiative takes into account major usage of the key social media accounts," said Ahmedin.

It created a WhatsApp chatbot two weeks ago and is currently dealing with Messenger and Telegram chatbots, according to Ahmedin.

The initiative also includes a call centre as another approach to disseminate information about the virus. Creating links between service providers and users with the marketplace and government services is also a task that the team is undertaking.

The Task Force has identified 34 government institutions with 176 government e-services with the aim of creating a bridge for payment solutions and strengthening service providers' commitment. There are close to 20 payment solution providers for this purpose including Amole, Belcash, Yene Pay, E-Birr and M-Birr.

Furthermore, the digital payment solution providers are expected to create wallet to wallet, account to account, or wallet to account integration between themselves.

"We have currently figured out the integration with the other providers, and we expect it to be live at the beginning of May," said Yilbes Addis, CEO of Eth-Switch, a firm owned by all banks established to create a national payment solution with a paid-up capital of 220 million Br.

A team from Eth-Switch has studied technological capabilities, their challenges, as well as the customer bases of the service providers, according to Yilbes.

Since the Task Force came to life, it has been able to push for the approval and legislation of the fintech directive, the e-service proclamation, and the agent banking directive.

The next step after establishing the marketplace and the payment solution is to work on the e-delivery action plan of goods and products. The Task Force has identified close to 15 courier service providers to operate under this programme, including Eshi Express, Deliver Addis and several others.

GPS tracking service providers have been selected with health centres, and a delivery service map has been drawn up. The central GPS tracking facility is currently in development.

"For the community that doesn't have mobile banking or isn't able to pay online," said Ahmedin, "we allow cash on delivery for the time being, and step by step the task force will work toward including this group as well."

This initiative, in particular, is also working to include cooperative retail shops operating in the capital through a mobile application and website platform. In the capital, there are 800 cooperatives with a total of 28,000 retailers under them that will all be included in this programme.

This platform will have an inventory management system. The action plan calls for providing tablets bought by the Central Statistical Agency to shop keepers, opening call centres for the cooperatives, and promoting the initiatives.

"We're working with the Addis Abeba City Administration on this programme," he said. "We expect to launch it in the next month."

Currently, the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) is the only bank that is actively partaking in the Task Force.

The team has also selected 22 financial institutions, including all of the commercial banks and some microfinance institutions, to be on board with the programme, according to Ahmedin.

Noad Demissse, an independent technology consultant, appreciated the initiative and the actions that are being undertaken by the team but says it is a long overdue move for the government.

"It is very late to realise the impact of technology on the daily lives of people," said Noad. "The government should also focus on how to use technology to help the health sector in terms of tracing COVID-19 patients and use technology to screen as well."

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