A two – day technology symposium under the auspices of African Virtual Campus (AVC – Global) in collaboration with Cuttington University has been held in Monrovia with the aim of exposing participants to online Contents Management Systems, the role Information Communication Technology (ICT) plays in successfully transforming businesses and why Liberia should prepare to participate in this global phenomenon.

Panelists at the symposium, which ended on Thursday, May 20, 2021 at the Monrovia City Hall, included both home – based and diaspora Liberian academics and entrepreneurs with many years of expertise in the IT sector. Participants included university students, auditors and others drawn from different backgrounds.

Mr. Ikenna Anekwe, Managing Director of the Guaranty Trust Bank (GT Bank) Liberia, served as the keynote on day one of the symposium, while Cllr. Oswald Tweh, President of Liberia Chambers of Commerce (LCC), also served as keynote speaker on day two of the symposium.

Under the theme “Leveraging ICT in Liberia,” the opening day of the symposium focused on Education and Governance, and it climaxed on Thursday, May 20, with a focus on Business and Banking.

At Thursday’s session, IT experts stressed the need for Liberia to embrace a culture of cyber security in order to effectively confront potential cyber security risks that may come along with the increasing utilization of technological programs in the business sector, academia, governance and security in the country.

In a keynote address, Cllr. Oswald Tweh said “innovation breeds business,” and since technology paves the way, it can be safely said that business needs technology to be sustained.

He said technology in business is a necessity, explaining that as the years go by, the world is leaning more and more toward technology, making it almost impossible to separate the two from each other.

Cllr. Tweh noted that without abandoning the traditional services and programs, “we are striving” towards utilizing innovative services and programs to assist Liberia’s young entrepreneur women – owned businesses and small and medium – sized entrepreneurs (SMEs), with special focus on the informal sector.

In doing this, Cllr. Tweh said current communication media are being utilized – WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media apps. However, he said there are two major challenges in Liberia with the ICT sector, naming them as the high cost of internet and the lack of accessible and affordable electricity.

Cllr. Tweh recommended that these two things have to be looked at in order for Liberia to make improvement in the sector.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Ikenna Anekwe, Managing Director of GT Bank Liberia stated in a keynote address that it is those that embrace ICT and offer such services that will capture the market, noting that ICT is one of the ways to grow the Liberian economy, improve how businesses respond to customers and come out with products that customers need.

As an example, Mr. Anekwe recalled that GTBank, after upgrading its services and creating awareness, now has over 4,900 active users of its mobile apps which is significantly higher than a user base of roughly 900 in October 2018.

In utilizing technology to improve business Mr. Anekwe said you must have the right set of people that will help you develop the program and the things that you need to automate your processes.

Dr. Darren Wilkins, Vice President for Information Technology at the University of Liberia (UL), said cyber security culture is needed in Liberia, noting that “we’re building systems, for every time we think we build them, cyber security is an afterthought.”

According to Dr. Wilkins, there are about 107 Ministries, Agencies and Commissions (MACs), and there is a mandate in the IT policy that was launched for Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LIBTELCO) to build government security network which he said is a critical information infrastructure which the government relies on for its E-government programs.

“All of these MACs are supposed to be connected to this network to deliver services to the public,” he said, and added that there’s no thought about cyber security training.

Dr. Wilkins stated that before the corona virus crisis, he was doing a study sometime in 2020 and he visited the Ministerial Complex which houses about six crucial MACs – Civil Service, Ministries of Gender, Transport, Agriculture, Education and Commerce.

He stated that the Ministerial Complex was built by the Chinese, the IT infrastructure is powered by [China’s Telecommunication Company] Huawei, and most of the documentation was in Chinese and they didn’t provide training for the IT managers.

“So what most of them did was bye-pass the Huawei system and deploy their own physical devices. So I think this conversation should go all the way to the Minister of Post who is the head of the ICT sector and the regulator, LTA [Liberia Telecommunications Authority] who actually works with the Ministry of Post to craft that national security threat [regulation],” he said.

Mr. Datim Dathong, Deputy Education Minister for Administration said as the second person in charge of the entire Liberian education system, having an IT background has helped because there are so many challenges when it comes to the education in the country.

Talking about higher education at the symposium, Mr. Dathong said he would reveal some major challenges that ICT can solve for the country where 1.5 million kids are in school at the K-12 level and 69,000 students at the higher education level. He noted that an ICT online policy had just been developed for the Republic of Liberia, stressing the importance of online education in the country.

The Deputy Education Minister revealed that part of the policy is that starting next year, 30 percent of every university will have to teach their curriculum online in preparation of other future global challenges that might affect Liberia, having seen how the young people stayed home for almost a year during the coronavirus crisis because Liberia had not leverage on ICT in education.

The Chief Executive Officer of a Liberian – owned software development and consultancy company Smart Systems, Mr. Dobor Bedell recalled that in 2008, he developed a system called Smart School and it has been around since helping schools to upgrade their record keeping systems.

He said the service initially targeted high schools, but it was later upgraded and captured community colleges and universities, including the University of Liberia and Stella Maris, thereby enabling schools in the country to use the modern system of record keeping.

“So our system really came and changed the whole landscape to support universities in their operations,” he said.

However Mr. Bedell noted that he used GPRS [General Packet Radio Service] or second generation cellular network (2G) technology at that time because he couldn’t develop an online system at the start of the smart schools service due to the lack of fiber optic or broadband internet in Liberia.

Despite the availability of fiber optic in Liberia today, Mr. Bedell said Smart Systems still has an interface that synchronizes data from both offline to online platforms for students and teachers because a lot of people do not have the fiber optic in their homes.