Networking equipment provider Cisco has been in operation across Africa for a number of years, and since Vice President for Africa David Meads took over almost two years ago, the company has focussed on expanding its footprint.
“Cisco has a presence in 11 African countries, with South Africa being the largest territory for us – with about 300 staff. We have made a number of changes in our teams, and brought in some new talent. As part of that, we now have five general managers, and the way I structured it is for the four major countries which we believe has the biggest growth,” Meads told IT News Africa in an exclusive interview.
Meads explained that Cisco tries to align themselves with what the respective government departments require, which in turn builds business and boosts a country’s Gross Domestic Produce (GDP).
“South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt are the four focus countries for us – where South Africa is 35% of our growth. Our vision for Africa as a business, is that we lead with a country transformation strategy by aligning with government priorities such as healthcare, safety and job creation. We correlate the penetration of broadband growth – the more people you connect, the better the GDP and growth is for a country,” he added.
He conceded that broadband penetration and education in Africa are still major issues, but can be remedied with the right solutions, as both often go hand-in-hand.
“You have to level the playing field with broadband, and education is still a major challenge. Our strategy is to work with service providers and infrastructure to push on both ends. Our vision is to connect on the continent and so that it becomes more productive. Coupled with that, the standard of living increases, and then it starts to become realized.”
Cisco prides itself on being actively involved in the support of innovation in Africa, and Meads explained that they had a number of initiatives that boost content – such as their Networking Academy.
“One thing that we do that stands out is the Networking Academy we started around 1998. We train members in the academy and provide them with basic ICT skills, right through to upper-level training that comes with Cisco Accreditation. Currently we have about 790 Network Academies across Africa, with more the 77 000 students enrolled, while 31% of them are female.”
Cisco currently has no Research and Development investment in Africa. “We have no R&D investment in Africa, and I would like to champion that.”
Asked which nation requires the most attention when it comes to development, Meads turned the question around, and explained that Rwanda is fast becoming the go-to destination in terms of infrastructure and development.
“Rwanda is one of the biggest growing countries. President Kagame knows that technology can transform governments. It’s the best example of how government can use technology to better lives.”
Meads explained what makes Rwanda so unique – which is helping to propel them into a new era. “Kagame embraces technology, and they are also rolling out cloud across all the ministries. He has some great visions for what can be done, and is a real visionary.”
Reluctant to specifically name the offending country, he explained that South Africa, while it’s doing pretty well, is actually behind its true potential.
“Out of the four focus countries, SA should be further ahead than what it is in its use of technology. Some service providers are doing some great work, and technology being deployed are world-class. But if you look at government, it is behind. Former Communications Minister Roy Padayachee understood what Cisco wanted to do, and he got technology. There isn’t enough appreciation in cabinet in what technology can do to accelerate growth.”
He went on to say that governments often look at decisions that will win votes in the short-term, but neglect to pay attention to long-term consequences.
“Part of the challenge of the benefits from technology is that their rollout is longer term – which is not necessarily a vote winner. You might have to spend millions on broadband while some people suffer, but it will benefit the nation in the long run. Government needs to balance the basic services of citizens and that with ICT.”
Charlie Fripp – Consumer tech editor