The success of Highway Africa 2016 has further cemented the auspicious partnership between the largest telecommunications operator on the Africa continent, MTN Group and the organizers of Highway Africa. The annual event, organised in conjunction with Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media studies is the largest gathering of ICT journalists and professionals on the African and functions as a veritable capacity-building initiative.
This year, Highway Africa marked its 20th Anniversary and the MTN Group marked its 15th year as a partner to the organisation. Consequently, the MTN Group which hosted a welcome reception for the delegates at the Nelson Mandela Dining Hall in Rhodes University reiterated its support for the advancement of ICT and human potential on the Africa continent through journalism.
As Highway Africa marked its 20th anniversary, the Director of the organisation Chris Kabwato went down memory lane on circumstances that led to the birth of Highway Africa 20 years ago. According to him, it was at a time of telecommunication revolution in the continent and the nascent stages of the internet in Africa. The founders of the organisation saw an opportunity to tap into that potential and the rest is history. MTN which has characteristically supported a lot of capacity building efforts in the African continent took up the mantle 15 years ago to support the Highway Africa initiative as a major sponsor.
MTN had on 25th August hosted delegates at the MTN Innovations Centre in Fairland at the periphery of Johannesburg before it held a welcome reception for all delegates on 27th August at Rhodes University Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, venue for every edition of Highway Africa but two.
The General Manager, Corporate Communications of the MTN Group, Xolisa Vapi says MTN has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Highway Africa through the years. According to him the conference has been so successful because it has addressed very pertinent and topical issues, not just for the media but for the continent as a whole.
Speaking about the theme of the 2016 Highway Africa, “The Internet and the Media”, Vapi says as an organisation, MTN is passionate about connectivity and has borne witness to how greatly internet access impacts every facet of modern life. He however, decried the poor internet penetration in the continent. Hear him, “Across the continent, there are millions of people who are still yet to benefit from internet access – about 71% of the population to be precise”. Taking a global view according to him, in comparison to the rest of the world, the lowest levels of internet access are mostly found in sub-Saharan Africa. This he says is disappointing and alarming.
Xolisa Vapi says just like the UN has recognized the importance of Internet access and has set a target to ‘significantly increase access to Information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries by 2020.’ MTN shares the same views and believes that issues of access and penetration on the continent must be addressed urgently.
He further disclosed that MTN has focused on improving access by rolling out and enhancing its network and increasing adoption through affordable internet-enabled devices. In the past year according to him, MTN rolled out 966 2G, 1593 co-located 3G and 3148 co-located LTE sites. To ensure affordability, MTN offers branded smartphones at a cost lower than the average cost of a smartphones in some markets. MTN also maintains partnership with Fenix International, and in 2015, it was able to offer free internet-enabled MTN Shyne phones when customers purchased ReadyPay Solar Power.
Vapi also spoke about MTN’s partnership with Google and Infinix Mobility which allows it to provide devices through the Android One initiative in Nigeria. MTN also partnered with Samsung and Standard Chartered Bank to launch a device financing programme that allows access to low-cost loans to finance smartphones and tablets in Nigeria.
Highway Africa 2016 which ended on 29th August 2016 attracted hundreds of delegates from across the Africa continent and beyond. Several Informational and Communications Technology topics were discussed in the plenary and breakout sessions. The breakout sessions also included workshops for journalists just like the one-week pre-conference training.