5-6 JUNE 2018 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

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Bridging the Digital Divide in Africa

Bridging the Digital Divide in Africa

The Role of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) in overcoming connectivity challenges, ensuring economic and social development in remote areas and creating jobs in Africa.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 16:00 to 17:30

Key points

• The technology solutions for bringing connectivity to Africa exist and can help bring the economic and social advantages of the connected world.
• Digitalisation can provide new cost-effective solutions to many enduring problems and can help drive inclusion by removing physical boundaries between people.
• A public-private partnership to build a network needs a sustainable plan to permit a long-term commitment by the private sector. Quick returns cannot be expected.
• Solutions need to be scalable and adaptable or reusable over time.
• There is an important need for ICT services to be developed at the local level. This will make the network sustainable over time and generate employment.


The technological solutions for bringing connectivity to Africa are already available using satellite and ground-based systems. Digitalisation can provide new cost-effective solutions to many enduring problems and can drive inclusion by removing physical boundaries between people.

Nationwide digital networks have to be sustainable over time and scalable so that new areas of application can be progressively incorporated.

It is important to have both public and provider networks using the same backbone as far as possible. Creating a strong ICT backbone can be a key part of infrastructure development in sectors such as water, electricity, agriculture, finance, and even interactive apps for disaster response.

The Luxembourg satellite company SES, for example, has effective solutions based on satellite networks and ground infrastructure that can provide tailored solutions to the requirements of different countries.

The use of cloud technology eliminates the cost of setting up and operating local data centres. Cloud can be easily scaled up to meet the needs of business.

But while cloud computing averts the need to build complex data centres, it still requires the development of local ICT services and computing skills.

This offers considerable employment potential. With about 1 million young people a year in Africa looking for jobs, they can provide the ICT service sector with the staff they need. And the needs will grow as the networks are applied more widely to areas such as education, health, and agriculture.

The relationship with governments to make the investment succeed remains the challenge. One of the main impediments to implementation is red tape and the degree of authorities’ willingness to allow nationwide digitisation by private companies.

Indeed the key elements needed for a public-private partnership are fair competition, transparency, and a clear role for private sector actors to develop services for everyone.

The involvement of government at the outset can help make the economics of the project work. Once launched, the same infrastructure can be scaled up and expanded more broadly to other areas.

National governments may need help to push a public-private partnership through. Committing to a major expenditure can be difficult politically. The private sector can help by assuming a lot of the risk. 

A key conclusion of panellists was that any projects implemented had to become self–sustainable and scalable over time. The private sector’s commitment has to be long term -- it can take up 15 years to recoup investment.

The key is not to try and do everything at once. The initial approach should focus on core applications for the government using a system that can be scaled and applied to other areas.

It is important to look at the overall Ecosystem rather than at just one or two players. Any partnership that does not involve local African partners is likely to fail. It is important to involve the local community to develop local skills.

The conclusions of the session will be presented at the 5th EU-Africa summit in Abidjan in November 2017. 


The private sector has to think of a 15-year timeframe for a public-private partnership in Africa to bring a return. It may need to assume a lot of the financial risk to be acceptable politically to national governments.

Organised by

    Ossi Heinanen
    Plan International Finland
    Koen Van Acoleyen
    Direction Générale de la Coopération au Développement et de l’Aide Humanitaire, Belgium
    Walter Mayer
    Founder and CEO
    PROGIS Corporation
    Laurence Janssens
    Country Manager
    Microsoft Indian Ocean Islands Ltd
    Michel Reveyrand
    Advisor to Orange Chairman & CEO, in charge of international relations
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