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From May 9-10, 2022, Sierra Leone will host the first ever West Africa conference on digital public goods and cybersecurity. Inside the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel, Freetown, participants at the two-day conference will explore the impact that digitization of public goods and personal identity had, and continues to have, on the economy and peoples of Africa.

The event will focus on several key domains that will be impacted by the transition to digital public goods (DPGs) as well as the cybersecurity needs that will result, including financial inclusion, healthcare, and agriculture.

The event is put together by a team of academics from Carnegie Mellon University – the organisers include Conrad Tucker, an Arthur Hamerschlag Career Development Professor; Assane Gueye, an Assistant Teaching Professor, CMU-Africa and Co-director, CyLab-Africa initiative; and Paul McNamara, a Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics.

Digital transformation of Africa

The conference is structured around keynote addresses, panel sessions, research presentations, and digital public goods and cybersecurity demos – all geared at exploring the digital transformation of Africa.

“While data acquisition and technology implementation may seem impractical for low to middle-income countries (LMIC), it has been demonstrated through successful IT infrastructure projects such as DakNet, developed by MIT Media,” the organiers noted in a statement.

Adding: “Lab researchers, that low-cost implementation of data and communication infrastructure can be both practical and profitable in LMICs. The emergence of affordable mobile computing devices in LMICs has had a positive impact on financial inclusion for the poor, healthcare, agriculture, and beyond. Studies by the International Telecommunications Union reveal that developing nations accounted for 67% of the world’s mobile subscriptions by the end of 2006, with positive projections on future growth potential.

“A recent study by GSMA revealed that by the end of 2020, 46% of the sub-Saharan African population (~495 million people), had subscribed to mobile services, further highlighting the rapid and successful market penetration of mobile digital devices in Africa.”

For the two days, experts drawn from the academia, NGOs, government and private sector across the globe will focus on whether ”the digital transformation in Africa poses many economic, technical, and societal questions such as:

  1. What impact will mobile devices have on the digitization of public goods?
  2. How will the digitalization of African economies impact the cybersecurity landscape of citizens, especially those who may not be well versed in cybersecurity, but are nevertheless reliant on the digital technologies that play a critical role in their lives?
  3. How can we ensure that the shift to digital public goods advances the gender equity goals of the United Nations and other international organizations?”

Conference outcomes and deliverables

According to the organisers, conference outcomes and deliverables will be measured based on:

  • A ranking of priority areas/actions items focused on DPGs and cybersecurity in Africa
  • The creation of a sustainable network of conference attendees/participants who will serve as advisors for future national initiatives
  • A white paper that is developed as a result of input from conference attendees/participants
  • The establishment of new research teams that will advance and submit proposals to federal agencies
  • The broad dissemination of conference ideas and discussions to both the scientific community and society at large through social media networks and traditional news outlets.

“This conference will motivate the need for diversity and inclusion in DPGs and cybersecurity research and practice in Africa. The conference will focus on bridging the gap in gender disparities in the DPG and cybersecurity spaces in Africa, given the importance of these domains in transforming the economic landscape in Africa by providing more economic opportunities for the poor,” stated the team from Carnegie Mellon University.

Speakers

Speakers and panelists include: Ayodeji Balogun, CEO, AFEX; Dr. Ian Brooks, Director, Center for Health Informatics, the WHO Collaborating Center on Information Systems for Health; Mary Chaney, Director, Information Security and Privacy, Esperion; Dr. Nkata Chuku, Founding Partner, Health Systems Consult (HSCL); Dr. Kanwaljit Singh, Senior Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Mariama Yormah, ICT Manager at Ministry of Information and Communications/ National Cybersecurity Coordinator, Sierra Leona; Nyakeh Yormah, Deputy Director of Communications & Head of E-Government & Operations at Ministry of Information and Communications, Sierra Leone; and Mohamed Moustapha Diouf, CEO, BAAMTU.

Others are Renee Forney, Deputy Chief Information Security Officer for Governance, Risk & Compliance-Fintech, Meta Azure Hardware Systems & Infrastructure Security; Steve Adegbite, Principal-Security Research, Microsoft; Prof. Tegawendé F. Bissyande, Chief Scientist (Professor Category), SnT at University of Luxembourg; Muhammed Jah, CEO, Qgroup/Q Money; Keyzom Ngodup Massally, Senior Advisor & Digital Public Goods Lead, Chief Digital Office, Head-Asia Pacific Region Better Than Cash Alliance; Freda Yawson, Senior Manager for Infrastructure and Innovation at the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET); Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative; and Evelyn Lewis, CEO, SBTS Group, among others.

 

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