Why We Must Learn from Africans

If your car breaks down, do you seek a mechanic or a priest? If you fall and twist your ankle, do you ask for a doctor or a baker? The answers are obvious, but many of our businesses call the wrong people when they want advice about telecoms and tech risks. For example, when thinking about disaster recovery, is it better to get advice from people who have experienced real disasters, or the people who learned about disasters from a textbook? If you want advice about fraud, should you consult the people who have caught real fraudsters or place all your faith in computer programmers who never have? And if you need help managing the risks associated with mobile money, should you ask an African, or somebody from a country that still struggles with chip and pin credit cards?

Africans increasingly have knowledge that the rest of the world should value. That is because they have experience that others lack. Consider that there are more active users of mobile money in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world put together (see here for the GSMA’s research on the topic). The rise of mobile money will have a knock-on impact on other sectors too. For instance, the GSMA tells us that the cost of using mobile phones to transfer money across national borders is becoming highly competitive.

…the cost of sending US$ 200 using mobile money is already less than three per cent in 34 country corridors, and it is less than two per cent in 15 country corridors.

It does not take a genius to realize these services will gain market share around the world, and that there are more risk managers with relevant experience in Africa than anywhere else. So what is the typical global body doing to ensure this expertise is harnessed? Not enough. Most organizations run events in order to get the most profit, not because they will learn the most. Comms is a global business, but we make insufficient effort to connect an audience of willing learners with the most knowledgeable teachers. That is why the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG) has made it a priority to create a cycle of international events for risk and assurance professionals, and to ensure Africa is represented in that cycle.

Joseph NderituRAG is actively engaging with Africans to ensure they help to shape the global agenda for our profession. This involves bringing RAG’s big free conferences to Africa, and it also involves listening to African experts. This was recently confirmed with the appointment of Kenyan consultant Joseph Nderitu (pictured) as RAG’s African Agenda Coordinator. Joseph joins our volunteer team at a crucial time, as we gear up for the delivery of RAG Johannesburg, a big free conference to be hosted by MTN on 4th and 5th September. This is what Joseph had to say about his appointment as the coordinator for Africa, as quoted from RAG’s press announcement.

For quite some time, I have followed RAG conferences in Europe with keen interest – the concept of an event that is free to attend and yet packed with lots of useful knowledge shared by well known experts is excellent in its simplicity. RAG conferences succeed because the people who attend are driven by one goal: to share what they know and to learn from each other. I am very privileged to serve as the African Agenda Coordinator as we seek to deliver sessions full of insight, candid debate… and achieve long term networking among the participants.

And this is what Joseph had to say about the coming RAG Johannesburg conference.

I look forward to welcoming many of my colleagues working in the African space to this inaugural conference. This is a fantastic opportunity to hear from the experts and question them. RAG is the only international risk and assurance body which intends to give an equal platform to African professionals, putting them on a global stage so they can take the lead with aspects of risk management where Africans have most experience, such as mobile money.

I agree with Joseph, but it is vital we listen to him, instead of me. He is an African, I am not. At the same time, more Africans must find their voice. Instead of waiting for white men to give them certificates, more Africans must accept the responsibilities that come with being leaders. RAG Johannesburg is an opportunity for Africans to push themselves forward, where we understand leadership is a burden as well as a privilege. Travel in Africa is expensive, so whilst RAG Johannesburg is a free conference, some will struggle to get the support they need to attend. However, they should fight for their fair share of the corporate travel budget, because others fought to make the investment that brought RAG to Johannesburg. It is a free conference; telcos need to realize it is in their interest to support it, and to encourage it to return to Africa in future. The alternative is to wish-and-hope that selfless foreigners will fly into Africa and make a gift of knowledge whilst seeking nothing in return, or else the foreigners will pay for a select few Africans to be flown to fancy hotels overseas, where they can be courted by vendors. Neither approach will result in African leadership; both dooms African telcos to being fed upon by parasites.

Many Africans have recognized the benefits of attending this unique event. The registered attendees of RAG Johannesburg include telco employees from: Botswana, Guinea, Liberia, Swaziland, Uganda, Ghana, Cameroon, Sudan, and Nigeria. There will also be many telco professionals who work for the various South African telcos. Some telco managers are coming from even further away, such as Iran, Germany, Syria, Yemen, and the UK. But let me be clear: we need and want more employees of African telcos to attend RAG Johannesburg. Africa is a big continent, but that is no excuse to miss the biggest and best networking opportunity that most African risk and assurance professionals have ever had. RAG wins if we bring together the most expertise to the same location at the same time. Africa loses if its expertise is spread thin, distributed around too many small and expensive events where the participants will be lucky if there are ten other telco managers.

There has never been a better time for African risk and assurance professionals to assume a leadership role, teaching the rest of us about how to run telcos. Professionals like Joseph Nderitu have risen to the challenge. If you work in an African telco, or if you know people who do, I urge you to follow Joseph’s example. The world is changing, but life is short. Now is the time for Africans to capitalize on the many areas where they know more about telco risks than anyone else. They must demonstrate their knowledge, so the best examples of African practice can be shared via a global stage. African risk and assurance professionals are more than equal to their counterparts in other countries. This is an opportunity to prove it.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.

Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a founding member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group, and is an editorial advisor to Black Swan. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.

Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.