‘Access to data is becoming a human right’

  • November 29, 2017

Said Honourable Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Minister of Communications, Ghana, in an interview with The Times of Africa. From the international airport in New Delhi, she headed straight for the meetings as she wanted to leverage the time she had in the capital of India. However, one cannot find a hint of jet-lag or exhaustion when one meets her. And when she starts speaking, you can’t help but get engrossed in the conversation. Her energy is infectious; her passion for work rare!

Joining the conversation was His Excellency Mr. Michael Aaron Nii Nortey Oquaye, High Commissioner of Ghana to India. Excerpts of the conversation:

Your visit to India is significant, especially because it came at a time when India hosted the 5th Global Conference on Cyber Space. How was the experience?

Hon. Ursula: This is my first ever visit to India! I have been asking myself what took me so long. From the time we touched down, I realised that this was like home.

I went straight to the meetings and observed that the conversations we had around rural telephony and bridging the digital divide are similar to the conversations that we have had back home. So it appears that the time is right; an opportune time to be having these conversations. And no better place to have them then in India, which until very recently was just like Ghana.

India has, over the time, become technologically advanced and has introduced many innovative solutions to the problems that we are currently facing in Ghana. I have had a lot of bilateral engagements already, which are aimed at addressing many of our concerns back home.

We can do what we can do to scale up technology in all spheres of life but we want to look at cyber-security as well. You are exposing your confidential information, hence, digitalisation has to go hand-in-hand with securing the cyber space. And so this conference has been apt and we are looking at greater cooperation across common grounds with all the countries like us. We are looking at sharing experiences, creating alliances, building on the advances that others have already made.

Therefore, it has been a fruitful conference and I am glad I am in Delhi at this time, which is too short time so I have to come back.

You have met the Indian business community here and the discussions may have led to certain agreements. Are there any IT agreements lined up to be signed with the Indian Government during your visit?

 

Hon. Ursula: We are looking to the Indian Government to help us scale up the pan-African network, set up the IT Centre of Excellence and provide its support for its day-to-day operations.

There are many other initiatives that are going on. We are looking forward to greater collaboration in rural telephony, rural Information and Communications Technology (ICT) hardware solutions for post offices, and solar applications in telecommunications, particularly in the unserved and underserved areas.

Going forward, I see us inking many agreements along these lines, which will be cementing the existing good relationships that we have with India – a country that has helped us in agriculture, water systems, telecommunications and in various other aspects of our lives. I am looking forward to even greater engagements with the Indian companies in the field of ICT.

You just mentioned about solar energy in telecommunications and the High Commissioner attended an International Solar Alliance meeting that was held recently. Can ISA help Ghana tap solar energy for benefitting the telecommunication sector?

H.E. Michael Oquaye: Let me start by saying that I am very happy to see the Minister of Communications, Ghana. We have tried on many occasions to get her here but she has been very busy. So her coming here is fantastic.

In the modern era, telecommunications and ICT without India is a non-starter. India has shown that they are world leaders in this area. I have lived in Europe for a very long time. I was there for about 15 years and for every renowned investment bank or organisation, the ICT was controlled by the Indians from India. This is a trend that we are also trying to emulate.

The Indian system, its culture and terrain, as Mrs Ursula rightly said, is similar to ours. Because of that similarity, the Indian technology is good for us. Hence, it is in our interest to engage especially in technology transfer. Because we don’t just want to buy equipment; we want to share knowledge; we want to share best practice; we want to share due diligence.

One of the Indian businessmen we met earlier with the honourable minister, rightly said, “We don’t just want to go about the know-how but also the know-why.” Why is it happening? We have, thus, learnt something together in India.

She is a dynamic person. I know her personally from private practice as we both are lawyers. She is, in fact, a very renowned lawyer in Ghana and I know that she is very practical and the situation in Ghana requires practical solutions.

She is the person who is handling the whole cyber project. In terms of rural telephony, incorporating solar energy is the best way to go about it. It reduces the issue of maintenance and high utility cost.

I am expecting that soon Ghana and India will be able to conceptualize a major flagship project with regard to rural telephony and sustaining fibre-optic development.

Once done, we will look at the best applicable financial package and form something bigger.

You both mentioned that the focus should not just be on know-how but also on know-why. In order to push Ghana’s digital agenda, local entrepreneurs in the IT industry need to be promoted. What is the Government doing to support the local start-up ecosystem?

 

Hon. Ursula: My visit here was delayed because there is a tech-conference going on in Ghana as we talk to showcase what the start-ups and tech entrepreneurs are doing in the software and applications industry in the country. It is amazing to see the different applications of digital technology – from church management to hospital management, e-education, utilities and consumption patterns.

We have established the Accra Digital Centre to provide shared working space for low-cost plug and play and office accommodation.

Then, there is the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan, models of which have been run through the Ministry of Communications and the National Employment Agency.

To support tech-start-ups and IT-enabled services, we are looking at more Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) hubs and innovation centres to assist them develop and give them access to low-price data because cost of data has been one of the major issues that they were facing.

We can give them access to affordable data to be able to innovate. The government is also using its purchasing power to promote their work.

If you look at our national identification (ID) project that is being developed using biometrics, like Aadhar in India, we are using a local company, which has world-class facilities to do everything – from conception to actual production of the card, to the management of the database.

When we look at the digital property address system, several companies had bid but eventually, the solution chosen was a Ghanaian product, developed by local expertise.

The Government has also put its support behind to run the National Property Address System and it has become one of the key parts of the digital ecosystem that we are creating.

So it is not just encouraging the young entrepreneurs by word. We are putting our faith in them for developing products on a national scale. The government is putting money behind these companies by procuring their services. We are promoting electronic payment systems, e-education, e-health, and management of information systems – the solutions that they are so brilliantly developing.

Then we encourage others to continue developing software and applications by providing a commercial incentive.

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