XXIV Yasin International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development

The round table “Russia – Africa: Knowledge Sharing in the Field of Digitalization of Public Administration” was held at the Higher School of Economics as part of the XXIV Yasin International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development. Research fellows, representatives of Russian IT companies and delegates from African countries attended this event.

© Mikhail Dmitriev / Higher School of Economics

On April 11, 2023, the HSE hosted a round table “Russia—Africa: Sharing Knowledge in the Field of Digitalization of Public Administration”. The moderator was Anastasia Pavlenko, Deputy Executive Director and Key Account Director at Innopraktika.

In her opening speech, Anastasia Pavlenko noted that today many tasks in the field of digitalization of the economy and education can be overcame by effective public digital services. The high level of digital services development made possible to reduce the dependence of the most important sectors of the economy on foreign IT solutions and increased the potential for developing cooperation between Russia and African countries. According to Russoft, Association of leading Russian IT companies, 13% of Russian IT companies are interested in cooperation, and 7% are ready to enter the African market with their products as early as 2023. Today, we see the great potential for developing cooperation between Russia and African countries in the field of information technology.

Andrey Maslov, Anastasia Pavlenko, Ashraf Ahmed (from left to right)

© Mikhail Dmitriev / Higher School of Economics

Then the word was passed to Anastasia Likhacheva, Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics. The Dean recalled that the Centre for African Studies was opened only a year ago, but the Centre’s staff managed to do a lot. Anastasia shared her impressions of the Think20 conference in India: many IT projects were presented there, but the participants showed no desire to share their best practices. In contrast, the HSE round table is aimed not only at presenting national achievements, but also at implementing joint projects.

The new Concept of Russian foreign Policy gives high priority to cooperation with African countries. The Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs is actively involved in the process, preparing ambitious specialists able to create new institutional frameworks and serve as agents of new ideas at the level of international cooperation.

Anastasia Likhacheva

© Mikhail Dmitriev / Higher School of Economics

The director of the Centre for African Studies Andrey Maslov made the next point. The Centre for African Studies, with the support of Innopraktika, is launching a pilot educational project on digital governance for public officers from African countries — E-Governance Week.

Russia has already accumulated some experience in solving problems of digital governance; our mission is to help African public administration go through the initial stage of development and embark on an independent path of digital transformation, avoiding dependence on Western countries. For example, the public administration solutions found in Egypt can be used in Sudan and other countries. “We see our main task in the replication of positive experience and strengthening cooperation both between Russia and Africa and within the African region,” the director said. The presentation of our program in April 2023 was met with great interest in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, the Comoros and other African countries.

The Centre for African Studies operates in two main directions.

The first direction is to create a hub or portal to combine important knowledge about the continent. Analytical notes on digital public administration in different African countries are already available. It is planned to develop personalized access for secure exchange of offers, also with commercial organizations.

The second direction is developing a training program for African public officers. The training program will be a weeklong series of events at the end of September 2023 in St. Petersburg, where representatives of successful Russian companies will provide training to an African audience on problem-oriented modules prepared by the Centre for African Studies. According to the survey, the most popular topics are the integration of services, data protection and filling the lack of a regulatory framework. The final audience engagement campaign will take place at the 2023 Russia-Africa Summit in July.

Andrey Maslov

© Mikhail Dmitriev / Higher School of Economics

After that, Evgeny Styrin, Head of the International Laboratory of Digital Transformation in Public Administration at Governance, presented a speech. The speaker noted that over the past 20 years, Russia has achieved great success in digitalization and has moved from the stage of “Electronic government” to the stage of “Digital public administration”, significantly expanding the list of digital services provided. Statistics have shown that citizens of our country have saved 98 thousand hours when applying for public services in electronic form. The created infrastructure and solutions of public administration digitalization provide undoubted interest to African countries.

Evgeny Styrin

© Mikhail Dmitriev / Higher School of Economics

Director of the Department of International Information Security of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Artur Lukmanov outlined the trends of digitalization. Leading Western manufacturers of equipment and software are profiting from supplies to developing countries, which allows us to talk about neocolonial practices. Russia is helping to strengthen the information sovereignty of African countries in the name of equal international cooperation.

The speaker stressed that Russia is interested in developing international regulations on security in the information space. Thanks to the initiative of Russian diplomacy, such structures as the Ad Hoc Committee to Elaborate a Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes (Ad Hoc Committee on Cybercrime) and the Open-ended Working Group on security of and in the use of information and communications technologies (OEWG) were created at the UN. Within the framework of the OEWG, Russia proposes to make contacts between Computer Emergency Response Team in different countries direct in order to increase the effectiveness of the exchange of technical information about committed cyber attacks.

The First Secretary of the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Ashraf Ahmed, spoke in general terms about the digital transformation in Egypt and outlined the prospects for cooperation in Africa and with Russia. Digitalization is a high priority for the Egyptian government, including thanks to the capital relocation project, and over the past few years about 2.7 million US dollars have been invested in the development of ICT. The so-called Egypt digital platform is being actively improved, with the number of services increasing from 120 to 150 by the end of this year. Digital projects in Egypt are closely linked to education, security and the empowerment of citizens to receive services. As part of the African continent, Egypt participates in ambitious digitalization projects related to Agenda 2063, for example, the creation of the Pan-African Digital Data Network and the Pan-African e-network. “The organization of this forum [the Russia-Africa 2023 International IT Forum] in preparation for the summit shows us how digitalization and the IT sector are important for Russia when it aims to cooperate with Africa. <…> We welcome the exchange of ideas and consider cooperation opportunities.”

Ashraf Ahmed

© Mikhail Dmitriev / Higher School of Economics

Deputy Ambassador of Tunisia Beсhir Langar said that the Tunisian Government has approved a National plan for the development and implementation of ICT. The main areas of use are education, international cooperation and startups. Sixty thousand engineers are trained in the country with the help of new technologies every year. Government is cooperating with the public and private sectors in Japan, Korea and the European Union.  As for the digital state (e-governance), it is developing slowly due to a lack of investment. “We are open to developing any kind of relationship with our partners,” he assured.

Council Ambassador of the Embassy of Guinea, Allhasori Sankhon, confirmed that digitalization is a priority for his country; in particular, increased attention is being paid to the development of a pan-African digital network, financial monitoring, border control, data management and the fight against cyber terrorism. Ambassador expressed hope for successful cooperation with Russia in these problematic areas, as Russia being a knowledge holder that can help to stabilize the situation in the country. There is a shortage of such knowledge in Guinea, as well as materials and training of specialists, so the opportunity to train staff in Russia will be welcomed. “We invite Russian companies to Guinea so that they can study the situation on the spot and further develop cooperation with our country. We hope that Russia will use this opportunity to restore its presence on the African continent.” “Russia has long been known in Africa, and we consider Russia as a privileged partner,” the diplomat concluded.

Allhasori Sankhon

© Mikhail Dmitriev / Higher School of Economics

Dr. Hassan Khannenje, Director of HORN International Institute for Strategic Studies, expressed confidence that this discussion is very relevant considering the upcoming Russian-African Forum. Information and communication technologies has contributed to the transformation of society in Africa: a single platform has improved the efficiency of public services; business platforms have simplified the investment procedure; a wide network of start-ups has emerged; and some countries have even achieved leadership in the development of mobile payments. At the same time, many countries cannot get the maximum benefit from technological advances because they do not have sufficient capacity to control them. “I believe that when it comes to digital state platforms, in the absence of sufficient independence, there is a risk that these platforms will compromise and, consequently, violate the sovereignty of states. At this stage, the countries of the continent have not developed sufficient capacity to counter cyber threats of this kind. I think that is why it is extremely important that Moscow, which probably has one of the most advanced management systems, is able to assist the countries not only in developing a more reliable cyber security system, but also in creating systems that will be independent of geopolitical disputes or manipulation by other players.”

Vladimir Tatarintsev, Director for the Development of strategic projects in the Rostelecom PJSC, noted that the company has extensive experience in creating a portal for public digital services in Russia and is ready to transfer competencies to Africa. In the context of import substitution, a large number of Russian companies offer ready–made software. Rostelecom also trains specialists in this field.

Sergey Kostoglod, Sales Director at Rostelecom-Data Storage Center LLC, said the creation of an “Electronic government” has begun in the Russian Federation since 2009 and now turned into a comprehensive digital environment for interaction between citizens, legal entities and authorities of various levels, significantly shortened the time for the provision of public services and reduced the cost of their provision. In 2022 Public Services Portal of the Russian Federation had 115 million users, 435 million public services were ordered, 138 million payments totaling more than 153 billion rubles were made, 61 billion interdepartmental electronic requests were exchanged.  The infrastructure of the “Electronic government” has withstood massive cyber attacks, refusals from Western vendors and suppliers to provide technical support for hardware and software.

Laima Lemaire, General Director of a research and technological company Kribrum shared the results of monitoring the global digital space. Now, all popular social networks belong to the United States, and they are implementing two large-scale tasks: 1) collection of user data; 2) remote manipulation of consciousness. The question is how to create your own sites on the Internet if it takes a long period of time. The speaker proposed the following measures:  control over social networks and training your own specialists in analytical, rather than technical, analysis of “big data”. Currently, there are only 10 universities in the world that train such specialists, and all of them are located in the United States. Therefore, Russia needs to form and develop its own competencies in this area as well.