- Connectivity, infrastructure, skills, e-services are some of the issues that Africa needs to tackle in order to fully harness the potential of the digital economy.
- Digitalisation can help fight corruption.
- There many challenges ahead but also many opportunities,
The Africa-EU Digital Economy Task Force has adopted a report with proposals to promote the African digital economy and make it sustainable for decades to come. Four main pillars support this initiative: universal access to affordable broadband, guaranteeing essential skills for all, improving the business environment and facilitating access to finance and business support services, and accelerating the adoption of e-services.
The digital economy is the fastest growing sector in Africa, contributing 10 % of overall gross domestic product (GDP). The mobile sector alone has created more than 3 million jobs across the continent.
Digital technology drives business creation, promotes sustainable development and reduces inequalities. It spurs efficiency, transparency and accountability, and consequently less corruption and stronger societies. As already seen in Europe, online services help citizens have a more direct contact with their governments. It also gives companies a more level playing field.
The European Commission has recognised the role digitalisation could have in fostering Africa’s development. It is the first time in history for such a tool to exist that, if well used, will lead to financial inclusion for all and empowerment for women. Most importantly digitalisation is a tool for Africa to develop a continent-wide strategy for the future.
E-commerce is already flourishing, and is worth almost US$50 billion a year, against US$8 billion five years ago. There is still a lot of untapped potential. But before this can be realised, the right policies and laws need to be put in place. Inadequate infrastructure, patchworks of laws in different countries, poor enforcement of cyber security rules and trade barriers like high taxes or custom duties need to be addressed urgently. Africans, and particularly women and young people, also need to acquire relevant skills to thrive in the increasingly digitised global economy.
The basis for all of this is connectivity. The digital divide is the greatest in Sub-Saharan Africa despite the fact that mobile subscriptions are growing faster there than in any other region of the world. Broadband access and infrastructure are also a problem because they is unaffordable to many, particularly in rural areas.
Africa is going through a digital revolution that will reshape the continent. Now that problems have been defined, challenges have been identified and recommendations have been adopted. The scene is set for a long-term European and African vision for an inclusive digital economy and society in both continents.
The Africa-EU Digital Economy Task Force’s report has brought together more information on digitalisation in Africa than ever before. But for effective implementation, content will have to be translated into local languages for people living in rural areas.