Chinese Companies Are Driving Digital Transformation On The African Continent

Doctors examine a patient during a training session at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, on 12 February. Photo: Kenyatta National Hospital

Lucy Wahome stumbles and struggles to maintain her balance and walk as a nurse rushes to lend her support, soon after she got admitted at the clinic. 

Wahome, 30, initially sought medical treatment at her home clinic in Kiambu County, Kenya, which seemed well organised; but she later realised that constant power outages at the facility seriously compromised the quality of care at the clinic. 

“I discovered that I had fibroids two years ago and decided to take some herbal medication, thinking they would disappear. However, my condition worsened, and then I got admitted at our local medical facility for a surgery. But the facility could not schedule one due to constant electricity shutdown,” Wahome told ChinAfrica and African Times. 

Prolonged power blackouts have paralysed vital installations, including the equipment at various hospitals. The power outages have been attributed to factors including an aging transmission network, staffing challenges at the state-owned power utility – Kenya Power, extreme weather events and vandalism, among others. 

On the brink of death, Wahome was referred to the Kenyatta National Hospital, Kenya’s largest referral hospital, located in the north of capital Nairobi.  

“Had it not been for this medical facility’s initiative to invest in a power gadget to help provide uninterrupted electricity which enables surgeons to do their surgery nonstop, I would have been dead by now. Today, despite a painful operation, I am on a road to recovery,” Wahome stated. 

Life-saving investment  

As of 2022, the hospital has over 1,800 beds, more than 6,000 staff, 50 wards, 22 outpatient clinics, 24 operation theatres (16 specialised) and an accident and emergency department, according to Kenya’s Ministry of Health. 

The massive health facility previously relied on outdated and unreliable gasoline-powered electricity generation equipment to supply power. Power outages were common and posed risk to the life of patients, especially in intensive care units. 

The recent installation of a sub-station at the referral hospital has brought huge relief to patients who queue up early in the morning to access quality medical care.  

Beijing Sifang Automation Co., under a partnership with World Bank-funded Advanced Distribution Management System of Kenya Power, has established a ring main unit (RMU) to ensure stable electricity supply, not only to the hospital, but also to numerous public and private facilities in Nairobi and neighbouring districts. The unit is equipped with automated instruments manufactured in China.  

The head of the hospital’s electrical section Peter Onyango said the installation of Sifang’s RMU has effectively eliminated power supply disruptions, notably enhancing the quality of care for patients with critical medical conditions. 

“My baby recovered quickly in the incubators after she was born prematurely at seven months, thanks to the continuous electricity supply. I cannot imagine what would have happened if the power supply was erratic like other medical centres,” Hellen Kamau, a patient, said. 

Onyango revealed that the previous gasoline-powered equipment to manage electricity supply was unreliable, and posed risks to patients in the intensive care wards due to power outages. 

“With Sifang’s equipment, we can now remotely detect faults and promptly restore power, mitigating risks to patients,” He stated. 

Francis Maina, project manager at Kenya Power, said that through a competitive bidding process, the Chinese company secured the tender to install RMUs, ensuring stable electricity supply at the country’s primary referral hospital. 

“The partnership with Beijing Sifang has significantly contributed to the utility’s digitisation efforts, enhancing grid reliability while cutting down on fuel and maintenance costs for clients,” Maina added.

Workers carry out testing work in the Digital Delta Data Centre in Gaborone, Botswana, on 11 September 2023. Photo: Xinhua

Digital infrastructure 

The RMU is a prime example of China’s contribution to Africa’s ongoing rapid urbanisation and regional integration, which will accelerate the pace of digital transformation on the continent and raise the prospects of digital economy. 

From the Internet and e-commerce to mobile payment and digital infrastructure platforms, Chinese companies are actively participating in Africa’s digital transformation, helping the world’s second-most populous continent to catch up with other regions of the world. China has delivered to most African states innovative solutions in the realm of telecommunications, smart manufacturing, electrical automation and e-commerce, among others. 

In Botswana, for instance, Chinese companies are actively involved in building a robust digital infrastructure. China Jiangxi International and Technical Cooperation Co. Ltd. is setting up the Digital Delta Data Centre. The state-of-the-art facility is housed in a two-storey building in Gaborone, the country’s capital, and is well equipped with support facilities. It will become the country’s largest data centre once completed. 

“This facility is vital to ensuring Botswana’s network data security and we believe that it will transform the ICT ecosystem in Botswana,” said Keabetswe Segole, acting chief executive officer of Botswana Fibre Networks, the wholesale provider of national and international telecommunication infrastructure in Botswana. 

For instance, Transsion, a Chinese smartphone manufacturer, has been Africa’s top smartphone seller for years. Through its popular mobile phone brands such as Tecno, Itel and Infinix, the company is now expanding to the area of mobile applications, attracting more and more users with its music streaming platform Boomplay, news aggregator Scooper News, and short video sharing platform Vskit, among others. 

E-commerce is another area where China-Africa digital cooperation is rapidly expanding, which allows a growing number of Chinese companies to share their expertise in digital payment and entertainment, thereby boosting people’s living standards on the continent.  

“I can’t remember the last time I took a flight to order spare parts from Beijing. China’s e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba have really facilitated my business and enhanced my profitability,” said Clement Chilufya, an auto spare parts dealer from Lusaka, Zambia.

 African Times has published this article in partnership with ChinAfrica Magazine.



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