LIVE FROM MWC KIGALI 2023: CEO and MD at Airtel Africa Segun Ogunsanya (pictured) addressed the key problems Africa is facing in bringing its digital agenda to life, putting operators on the spot as he encouraged a more dynamic partner ecosystem to enable wider deployment of digital technologies. 

The executive first emphasised the gap in the financial system across Sub-Saharan Africa, pointing out that only 17 per cent of the population have access to mobile wallets and the majority still live outside the traditional financial systems. 

He also noted that those who are covered by the internet end up not using it for many reasons, with financial constraints being the key barrier. “What we do in telecoms is to make it easier for people to enter the digital world,” said Ogunsanya, adding operators have the responsibility “to bridge the divide between those who have internet access and those who do not”. 

When it comes to the financial divide, Ogunsanya underlined that women living in rural parts of Africa are the most affected as they do not have access to financial products, making them more prone to “[economic] abuse” and poverty. 

The CEO also identified expensive handsets as the reason why mobile money remains untapped in some areas. To help mitigate this, Ogunsanya highlighted Airtel’s recent collaboration with the Rwandan government to launch a 4G smartphone, which it claims is the most affordable handset of its kind in Africa, marketed for $20. 

Ogunsanya also touted a $1 monthly data plan which allows unlimited texting and phone calls, with 1 GB of internet. This, he believes, would increase mobile usage in the continent, having noted that every 10 per cent increase in mobile penetration in Africa results in 2 per cent increase in GDP. 

“Our role is to allow the world to reach Africa and allow Africa to reach the world.”

Further, the executive addressed the operator role in advancing the education systems: “Education does not have to be within the confines of classroom. It is about teaching and distributing knowledge,” he said.