Brazzaville, 6 November 2020 - Congo’s government has officially launched the Africa Communication and Information Platform for Health and Economic Action (ACIP), a continental tool that aims to harness real-time anonymized data on COVID-19 to inform decision making at national and regional levels.
During the virtual launch of ACIP Congo on 6 November 2020, the country’s minister of Posts, Telecommunications and Digital Economy, Léon Juste Ibombo, described the platform as a “people-centered” tool that will enhance ongoing efforts by his government to ensure the safety and welfare of citizens.
“Anonymous data collected through this platform will provide relevant insights and analyses on issues relating to COVID-19 and the socio-economic wellbeing of our people,” said Mr Ibombo.
ACIP was developed by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and partners to enhance the capability of African governments to communicate and interact with the citizenry in mitigating and managing the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19. The Africa-wide initiative is championed by President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo.
ECA’s Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, commended the Congolese president for “exemplary leadership on this project,” and urged other leaders to join the continental initiative, which is “set to reach over 600 million mobile subscribers in Africa.” The ongoing phase one rollout covers mobile users across more than 23 countries, representing over 80% of Africa’s total mobile users.
The mobile platform uses an interactive, text-based, short-code (USSD), and an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) service to reach 100% of mobile users, regardless of phone type, technology, or mode of service. It integrates both online broadband and mobile narrowband information and facilitates collaboration across mobile network operators to serve local populations.
Andrew Rugege who heads the ITU Regional Office for Africa said ACIP’s ability to “leverage the power of artificial intelligence” makes it an essential “landmark” in the fight against COVID-19. He encouraged African countries to “take Congo’s example and implement this platform” that will help them reach millions of people.
It is the first time that major telecom operators in Africa, including Airtel, MTN, Orange, and Vodafone, have collaborated on a continental level to reach more than 80% of Africa’s 850 million mobile subscribers.
“ACIP is a good example of public-private partnership for social good. We congratulate Congo on becoming the pioneer nation to implement this continental initiative. As a pan African enterprise, it is our believe that every African deserves to be connected and be safe,” said Ayham Mousasa, CEO of MTN Congo.
The CEO of Airtel Congo, Alain Kahasha, also praised the government of Congo for its “laudable move” to take full advantage of this “platform that gives the Congolese people access to timely information, which will empower them to stay safe from COVID-19.”
In a message delivered on behalf of the director of Africa CDC, Akhona Tshangela - CDC Program Manager - said “sharing the right information to citizens plays a key role in keeping our communities well informed of the evolving situation of the global pandemic. This platform will help Congo’s government make data-informed decisions when responding to affected areas.”
A continental launch of ACIP took place in June 2020 under the leadership of the presidents of Guinea and Congo. It was attended by over 400 participants, including senior government representatives, heads of institutions, major mobile operators, Africa CDC, WHO, ITU, Smart Africa, the World Bank, Covington & Burling, and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.
Groundwork for the service has been laid in several countries and the rollout will continue on a country-by-country basis. The platform will enhance governments’ ability to acquire excellent and timely data while ensuring personal data protection. Each country maintains full ownership and access to its national data. USSD, IVR, and outbound SMS will be provided for free to all mobile users.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has underscored the urgency with which Africa must act to improve internet speed and access to ensure continuity in key areas such as the economy, health, and education during such pandemics. Countries that want to remain competitive in the global economy are fast adapting to 5G technologies, which will account for about 55% of mobile subscriptions in North America, 43% in North-East Asia, and 30% in Western Europe by 2024.
Congo’s capital city, Brazzaville, is amongst 10 African cities in which ECA, in collaboration with governments, telecommunications regulatory agencies, network and telecom operators, is planning to launch 5G testing before a continent-wide commercial launch in African.
“Congo is keen on taking full advantage of the multiple benefits of 5G technologies which will, among other things, contribute to an estimated $2.2 trillion to the world’s economy over the next 15 years (GSMA-2019),” Minister Ibombo.
Commenting on the potential of 5G to enhance socio-economic activities through an improved digital economy, UNIDO’s Secretary-General , Li Young, said “Africa’s efforts to test and establish relevant digital technology infrastructure deserve the strong support of the international community,” and that “ITU can contribute to the technology sourcing and attraction of investment for five 5g adoption.” He commended ECA’s work and reaffirmed UNIDO’s availability for continued collaboration with ECA to advance Africa’s digital agenda.
The Republic of Congo is also earmarked to host a Regional Centre on Artificial Intelligence (AI), which will be established with the support of ECA and its partners. The centre will help improve AI research and explore its transformative potential in sectors such as banking, health, agriculture, and transport among others in Congo and Africa at large.
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