“Africa remains a strategic market for us”

What are Huawei’s projects in Africa? The Chinese device manufacturer, which has been active on the continent for two decades, wants to develop new services in very different areas. Its leaders gave an exclusive interview to RFI. Huawei Northern Africa Executive Vice President Philippe Wang and Huawei Northern Africa President Enterprise & Cloud Colin Hu explain their strategy and address criticisms of the group.

RFI : Let’s start with the most immediate news: the food crisis affecting many countries, especially in Africa. How Huawei Group can help promote food sovereignty and develop agricultural systems ?

Philip Wang : This is very important for the economic and social stability of the continent. We have entered a very unstable period. Thanks to technology, it is our duty to help other manufacturers modernize to become more efficient. For example, for a soil we can evaluate what kind of plant we will use. It used to be necessary to analyze samples, which took a lot of time. Now we can develop a sensor to analyze the constituent parts of the earth and transmit all this information to the cloud through artificial intelligence. It becomes an indispensable tool in agriculture.

In order to develop digitization in education, you need broadband connections. In Africa it is often quite low. We saw it during the pandemic, many students were struggling to learn remotely. What can you do ?

Philip Wang: The development of the digital economy is a social issue. In order to educate young people in technology, we need a solid base, an investment-friendly legal framework with a solid and scalable infrastructure. With mobile and fixed technologies, a cloud platform needs to be connected to digitize all services, both in the private and public sector. It’s like a freeway. If the capital or big cities are not connected, we cannot develop the economy. It’s the same in the virtual world.

Colin Hu: We must not forget the people who have little or no connection. For the last five years we have been working in different countries such as Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to develop network coverage in rural areas. In Ghana, it gradually increased from 65% to 97%. It’s a model that deserves to be imitated in the region. We are very proud of this.

Do you think Africa has fallen behind?

Philip Wang: Africa has fallen behind but is catching up very quickly. We need to encourage public-private investment, which is why we are discussing this with various governments and our partners.

When we talk about infrastructure, there is one strategic point, and that is undersea cables.

Philip Wang : That’s a very good question, because geographically, Africa is the heart of the world. There are already many submarine cables. But meeting the needs of 1.2 billion people requires more connectivity and more bandwidth. Demand is increasing very rapidly, by an average of 20 to 30% per year. We have already worked with our partners on several projects in Cameroon and Cape Verde.

Huawei faces strong competition around the world and is even boycotted in some cases. Do you think Africa is the market with the greatest potential?

Philip Wang: First of all, I find the boycotts unfair. We are not attacked for factual reasons, but on a political level. We are a private company and do not wish to be involved. But sometimes we are forced to. For three years we have developed thanks to the trust of our partners and I think we will continue in this direction. Africa remains a strategic market for us because its population is the youngest and the new generation will drive the future. Our philosophy is therefore to invest now in order to be well positioned on this continent.

What is the most profitable part of your job? ? data center ?

Colin Hu: For Huawei, data centers, data centers are very important. We are a technology provider. Africa represents only 1% of global data center capacity. It means there is great potential.

Connected to the development of data centers and the cloud, the question of data protection arises. What is Huawei doing in this area? ?

Colin Hu: It’s a very sensitive subject. Data management must be monitored. Some countries already have laws to protect them. In Europe there is the GDPR. A framework has been in place in Egypt for two years. In Africa, 18 countries already have laws. It’s a matter of sovereignty. On the other hand, we need to see how Africa can become an open market while protecting itself. If data cannot be exchanged between countries, the market is badly organized, it’s not good for the economy. I’m talking about business data, not user data. We support digital sovereignty and promote an open market.

Cyber ​​security has become a very important topic for companies. What are your investments in Africa in this area?

Colin Hu: Cybersecurity is very important to all operators for Huawei, which offers services in more than 170 countries. These are critical activities, so we always strive for the highest quality. We help our customers and our partners to adapt technologies by sharing experiences, processes and know-how. We have created several centers dedicated to cybersecurity and transparency. We invite our customers and partners to test their products and develop the skills of their employees.

Philip Wang: Cyber ​​security is an important issue for the economy due to the large number of attacks. What does Huawei do? We communicate with governments. We need to be able to make suggestions, present a device manufacturer’s vision to improve the regulatory framework. Secondly, we sensitize all economic actors. Third, we analyze for ourselves all the laws on the continent so our solutions are compliant from birth. Stimulating this market to better protect it is in the public interest.

Where are the “Smart City” projects?

Colin Hu: Seven or ten years ago, there was a lot of talk about smart cities. But it has calmed down in recent years. In Africa we are only at the beginning. These projects are set up, for example, in new cities in Egypt and in other countries, planning infrastructures from the construction of these cities. But we cannot copy these concepts in Africa, for example with garbage cans on the street that would all be connected. We need to adapt smart cities to African constraints.

These projects fuel the suspicion of espionage against Huawei.

Colin Hu: We offer our customers devices and services. Everything is under customers control. Once the project is delivered, everything is handed over to the customers. Huawei offers technology for businesses and for everyone. Most are available in the market. And most are competitive, open architectures, common standards used by our customers.

Philip Wang: To clarify our position, I would like to give an example. When a house is built, after the keys are handed over, the owner will live in it. The builder is nothing. The same applies to the virtual highways built by Huawei. We are a solution provider. And our relationship with partners is transparent. Tenders are carried out, which are evaluated according to various criteria.

Huawei provides electronic devices, infrastructure and data centers. Huawei is present in the education sector, agriculture and even the financial sector. This “ omnipotence can worry. what do you answer

Colin Hu: We work in all countries, we offer residents telecommunications infrastructures with the latest technologies that people appreciate. In addition, we recruit locally in Africa. Over 81% of our employees are locals. We create this ecosystem with our partners and suppliers to create jobs, also with local partners. Most of the time, we don’t work directly with consumers, but with partners to work out solutions together.

Philip Wang: Why are we everywhere? Because our business is the platform, not a vertical market, sector by sector. In order to meet all requirements, we want to work hand in hand with our partners. The market is big enough for everyone. It’s like Windows system, everyone uses it and nobody sees it as a threat. Because it’s a very useful tool. We would like to play such a role. Our partners, who know us well, know that. They see us as part of the solution, not part of the threat.

Huawei, a 20-year presence in Africa

Huawei, a twenty-year presence in Africa

Boycotted in the West, Huawei is now a major player in Africa. From Ethiopia to Morocco to Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Chinese tech giant claims to be present in more than 50 countries and generates 20 to 30% of its sales there. For more than twenty years, Huawei has been present on the continent with more than 9,000 employees and almost 2,500 partners.

Even though the Chinese company sells phones and computers, the consumer business isn’t the top priority for the device maker in Africa. Its goal is to provide services to businesses and governments, such as 3G and 4G networks connecting rural areas, 5G networks in cities, fiber optic and cloud solutions, data servers or even cyber security systems.

Some services offered by Huawei give cause for concern. Huawei Technologies has signed agreements with several African countries as part of its “Safe City” initiative. Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and Kampala, the capital of Uganda, are equipped with street camera surveillance systems coupled with facial recognition software. What if there were other goals behind these hyper-connected cities? The company, which is suspected of helping the Ugandan and Zambian governments spy on their political opponents, denies these allegations.

The Chinese giant has also invested in education with its “Huawei ICT Academy”. It offers training centers in almost all African countries to train young talents free of charge. Since its launch, more than 90,000 students have received training in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G and the cloud.

Myriam Berber

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