Let’s create a new world of decolonized and empowering digital norms – Ursula Owusu-Ekuful
The Global Standards Symposium (GSS) is a high-level forum for discussion and coordination open to members and non-members.
This year’s event, which will take place at the Geneva International Conference Center (CICG) in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, February 28, 2022, is organized by the Telecommunication Standardization Sector of the International Telecommunication Union and titled “International standards to enable digital transformation and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.
Hon. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful (MP), Ghana’s Minister of Communications and Digitalization, in her keynote address at the fourth GSS-20, stressed the need to unleash the full potential of digital transformation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (ODD).
The Minister highlighted how essential digital tools have become in the unfolding new world and said that without digital technology, none of the SDGs can be effectively achieved.
For her, we are moving towards the realization that the digital world is essential and just as important as the physical world.
Emphasizing that “As technology continues to advance at a faster pace than politics and regulation and as the 2030 timeline for achieving the SDGs draws near, it is clear that the policymaking community standards doesn’t have the luxury of time.
The ITU and other SDOs gathered here may be doing their best, however, the timely production of standards to meet the changing needs of policy makers, regulators and the ICT market is an area that has been a little elusive.
It is therefore suggested that a roadmap for the development of standards specifically for the SDGs be defined by an SDG consortium and that timelines be clearly defined in response to the expected growth in policy and technology.
Ms. Owusu-Ekuful, further stated, as digitalization affects all facets of the economy and society, and requires governments to cross traditional policy silos and across different levels and industry verticals , an “inclusive” approach to policy-making becomes essential. to unleash the full potential of digital transformation.
According to her, differences in economic growth, socio-cultural beliefs and development philosophies have played a key role in how countries and regions around the world have strategized to achieve their digital transformation, but in the interconnected world, it is It is necessary to develop all the aforementioned initiatives in an interoperable way and this is why the GSS-20 meeting is so crucial.
“Uncoordinated or deliberately biased development of any kind can have disastrous consequences for entire regions of the world and, by extension, for humanity in general. One example that comes to mind, and that some in this room may know, is the famous story of the stubbornness of technical barriers: the fiasco of the railway gauge”, she underlined.
The minister also revealed that for decades, inherited colonial norms and systems have prevented coordinated investments to boost rail interconnection across Africa, to the point where only 16% of total African trade is between African countries. neighbours, compared to more than 60% within the European Union. and more than 50% in Asia.
Saying, “The Trans-African Highway would still not be on the drawing board, and logistics connectivity across the continent would not be the most expensive in the world if rail connectivity had not been hampered by borrowed standards, or what Manu Karuka calls “railway colonialism”. ‘.”
She indicated that Ghana is stepping up its digital transformation momentum with the ultimate goal of improving lives in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring that the required frameworks are in place.
“The Government of Ghana, through the Ministry of Communications and Digitization, plays a pivotal role in developing a robust framework to support the digitization of the economy in a way that benefits every citizen.
But we are aware of the fact that we cannot do it alone and must build systems capable of being linked to those developed by our neighbours. We build fiber to our borders and actively participate in continental initiatives such as the Smart Africa Alliance. We are also committed to making the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) work, knowing clearly in our minds that digital technology holds the key to uniting our fragmented and uncoordinated trade infrastructure and systems on the continent.
I keep referring to the pandemic and for good reason too.
It helped focus our minds and created the opportunity to quickly introduce digital answers to critical issues. One such initiative was the Trusted Travel Initiative powered by the PanaBIOS system which was developed by the Africa CDC to digitally certify covid tests and vaccines to enable us to travel and reopen our economies safely.
We did not wait for an imported solution, but developed our own for the whole continent but which was also designed to be compatible and interoperable with similar systems developed for other parts of the world. Deploying continent-wide systems is notoriously difficult, but it was done in record time. I will come back to this later in my presentation, as we still have a few digital initiatives up our sleeve,” Ms. Owusu-Ekuful pointed out.
She added that “Africa and other less developed regions of the world cannot be treated as spectators. Every effort should be made to close the standardization gaps between rich and poor parts of our world, but it should be done in a way that does not stifle creativity or innovation, and provides access to technologies and appropriate funding to ensure the holistic development of our world.
In this 4th industrial revolution (industry 4.0), marked by developments in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, Smart Cities & IoT, Digital Financial Services (DFS), Digital Identities, Machine Learning & Big Data, for n To name a few, a lot of collaboration is expected from manufacturers of digital products, technology solution providers, telecommunications operators, standards development bodies and governments to ensure maximum consumer protection while that we encourage the use and adoption of digital technologies.
It is imperative that all standards development organizations work together in this area of digital transformation to ensure that “railway colonialism” does not happen again.
In Africa, and certainly in Ghana, we are concerned about the level of contribution that those of us in the Global South are making to standards that enable the emergence of massive global digital networks through interoperability.
According to the Hon. The Ghanaian minister decided not to be naive about the political economy of all these powerful changes. Emphasizing again that “while we recognize the power of digital ESG standards to create a fairer and more prosperous world, we also know that in the past, as a country and continent, we have been marginalized in creating similar systems . , such as the Internet.
We believe our best bet is to partner with our continental neighbors to establish our own ESG digital platforms and networks. We are building systems that reflect our unique reality with the aim of building a fairer and more prosperous continent.
Ghana is a pioneer in the adoption of the AfCFTA Caravan platform and its supply chain digitization derivative known as ProPer, Proof of Origin and Electronic Product Registries. We are also championing the rollout of the Digital Green Corridor to unlock climate finance resources for green supply chains in the region. These initiatives, like PanaBIOS, are fully endorsed by the African Union and we are determined to make them work.
The caravan and its derivatives are powerful instruments for harmonizing standards regimes across the various AfCFTA member states with the very clear aim of boosting trade, cultural exchange, cooperation, collaborative ventures and policy integration. .
Through the Caravan Platform, Ghana seeks to foster regional alliances in creating value chains where production activities can meet the highest ESG standards within frameworks that address our unique challenges.
For many years, countries like Ghana have complained about unfair phytosanitary standards that have excluded many of our competitive products from world markets. We have expressed our deep concern that when ESG standards such as the Living Income Differential emerge to serve our interests, transnational networks attempt to undermine them. We have complained about the role played by Western and Eastern intermediaries in embezzling vast wealth from our continent through clever manipulation of standards.
The time for complaints is over. We have now taken it upon ourselves as a country and continent to develop our own mega-platforms to track the application of standards across multiple interlocking supply chains across our continent. With the increased visibility and vigilance provided by Caravan and others, we hope that the situation where 90% of fish caught in the Gulf of Guinea, well above sustainability limits, are virtually stolen by foreign trawlers , will cease.
Whether it is marine resources off the coast of Ghana or rare earth metal concessions in Congo, standards are essential to ensure their sustainable, fair and equitable use for the benefit of people. As the monitoring, enforcement and monitoring of standards has proven so difficult in highly constrained institutional environments, digitization is essential to ensure that new capacities are made available in a decentralized manner across Africa to to change things.
But we cannot address the opportunity of digitization without a clear understanding of the political economy context.
Our deployment of digital technology in tracking, enforcing and monitoring ESG standards in vital supply chains such as marine, agriculture, mining and telecommunications must therefore be guided by clear-headed pragmatism. and a deep sense of cultural awareness.
It must be based on a strong decolonization program. We invite all like-minded parties to join together and create a new world of decolonized and empowering digital norms. »
Ghana’s Minister of Communications and Digitalization, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, commended ITU’s standardization sector for making GSS-20 possible despite the pandemic, sharing knowledge and experiences across a range of topics around digital transformation and the role of international standards in realizing its full potential.
She therefore expressed the commitment of the Government of Ghana to continue to make available the necessary means to support the standardization work of ITU and its allied bodies.