Africa Prosperity Network to hold international symposium on advancing interoperability in Africa

Africa Prosperity Network (APN), organisers of Africa Prosperity Dialogues (APD), in collaboration with the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) secretariat headquartered in Ghana, is set to organise an international symposium on advancing interoperability on the African continent.

The symposium, which will take place on 5 July 2024, in Accra, at the Labadi Beach Hotel, will be held under the theme: “Scaling Up Interoperability: Using Mobile Money to Buy & Sell Across Africa.”

The interoperability challenge

In today’s interconnected world, access to financial services is critical for economic growth and development. Mobile interoperability is a key component of Africa’s payment infrastructure, with the potential to significantly enhance cross-border payments across the continent. Despite regional integration efforts, market fragmentation persists, hindering economic activities.

Non-tariff barriers continue to impede cross-border trade in Africa, increasing transaction costs and limiting market access. Millions of Africans remain excluded from the formal financial system, which hinders their ability to save, invest, and transact efficiently. Addressing these challenges is essential to unlocking Africa’s economic potential.

Mobile interoperability, including cross-border mobile roaming and mobile money exchange, is crucial for creating an interconnected economy. The integration of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) could link telecom companies with commercial and central banks, boosting liquidity and currency stability. In 2022, mobile money transactions in Africa reached $1.26 trillion, underscoring the economic impact of digital currencies.

Ahead of the symposium, APN and its partners, in an engagement with the media, pointed out that interoperability on the continent cannot be overemphasised if the African continent is to boost trade among its states, and also that there is the need to take all necessary steps to ensure that all stakeholders are brought together to make a continent-wide mobile interoperability a success.

Stakeholder buy-in

Addressing the press at the Accra International Press Centre on Thursday, 6 June 2024, Executive Chairman of Africa Prosperity Network, Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko underscored the need to achieve interoperability on the African continent, while making an urgent plea for stakeholders such as Central Banks and Telecommunications regulators and organisations, Telcos, Fintechs, political leadership in Africa and the media to support the push for interoperability.

“Our focus as Africa Prosperity Network has been how we, together with our partners, can push the advocacy for a continent-wide interoperability. It will need the support of the media, it needs political will, it needs the buy-in of the central banks, it needs the buy-in of the regulators, and more importantly, the buy-in of the leadership of the continent, the regions, and the leadership of the various countries,” Mr Otchere-Darko said.

“We believe that if we can get interoperability working, particularly in the areas where tens and millions of medium, small, and micro-scale enterprises on the continent operate, it will really make meaningful the whole idea of intra-African trade,” the executive chairman of APN Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko further remarked.

Integrating payment systems

Dr Kenneth Ashigbey, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications in his statement narrated a challenge he had faced while making a payment due in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, from Accra, Ghana. After spending three nights in Abuja where he had attended a meeting, the hotel staff had charged him for two nights instead of three.

The challenge began upon his arrival in Accra when he tried finding payment solutions for the extra night at the hotel. For Dr Ashigbey, the challenge he encountered is symptomatic of the payments and settlements difficulties that exist on the African continent.

According to him, after embracing interoperability, Ghana changed its payment system infrastructure. This quickly enhanced financial inclusion in the country, beyond what the traditional banks have been able to do for all the several years they have operated in Ghana.

“AfCFTA will not happen if we don’t integrate [Africa’s] payment systems. The only way AfCFTA will happen, the only way African Union (AU) will happen, is when people are doing business together,” Dr Kenneth Ashigbey said.

“Africa is leading the mobile money conversation, so if we really would want to integrate and get businesses happening, the place to do it is to make sure that we are interoperable and to do it on the fintech platform using mobile money as a base and allowing our fintech to also be able to operate on that”, Dr Ashigbey added.

Erasing the borders

Chief executive officer of Blue Space, Mr Samuel Amannor posited that prosperity cannot happen without opportunity, and interoperability has the potential for delivering the opportunities needed for prosperity in Africa. He said that interoperability has the power to remove the borders that separate the countries on the continent.

“Interoperability is the eraser to bring us together. It is the eraser that will bring the selling and the buying to another level. It is the eraser that we need to prevent these invisible lines that have been painted,” Mr Amannor said.

“[Interoperability] will allow all of us to speak the same language when it comes to finance, the same language when it comes to data, the same language when it comes to borders, and we will trade like never before” he added.

Media partnership

Gayheart Mensah, executive board member of APN, on his part, urged the media to take particular interest in the interoperability agenda of the African continent and use their platforms to support this mission to integrate trade activities in Africa and among Africans.

“What Africa Prosperity Network is looking for is prosperity for Africa. Prosperity for Africa can only come if we can integrate our economies, align our value chains, and make sure that we trade a lot more among ourselves. We have everything on this continent, we can shut this continent and remain self-sufficient,” Mr Mensah said.

The Symposium on Interoperability, according to Gayheart Mensah, will bring together stakeholders in the entire value chain from the telecommunication sector, banking, and political leaders, among others, to discuss the concept of interoperability and establish exactly what the continent needs to do to make interoperability a reality on the continent.

Africa Prosperity Network (APN)

The Africa Prosperity Network (APN) is a non-profit organisation founded to advance the vision of “The Africa We Want” as outlined in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, with a particular focus on promoting Africa’s prosperity and economic integration.

APN is the vehicle that runs the Africa Prosperity Dialogues, an initiative committed to creating the platforms for partnerships among political and business leaders, civil society, academia, and traditional authorities in Africa.

This is aimed at driving the rapid development of the continent through dialogues and consensus-building on issues of trade, commerce, and strengthening of African economies.

Africa Prosperity Dialogues (APD)

The Africa Prosperity Dialogues series offer a strategic platform where the movers and shakers of the African economy elevate the economic integration objectives from ambitions to real actions.

Set in Accra, Ghana, the APD is a one-of-a-kind event where African leaders from diverse areas of national endeavour gather each year to expedite, among other things, the implementation of the agreed initiatives within the AfCFTA trade bloc and shape the Africa Agenda for Action.

APD brings into practical focus, the continent’s critical challenges and industrialisation priorities and advance aggressively the commercial and infrastructural interventions to achieve the vision of an Africa Beyond Aid. The APD is an annual conference held every January.

It is a summit of the highest political and business decision-makers in Africa, supported by various leaders, who propose practical, actionable initiatives to enhance trade in Africa and create prosperity for Africans. The Summit accelerates investment and amplifies public-private partnerships.

Reporting by Wilberforce Asare in Accra

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