‘Boosting Africa’s digital economy’: How tech is transforming Africa

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population is using the Internet. Of all regions, the strongest growth has been reported in Africa, where the percentage of people using the Internet increased from 2.1 per cent in 2005 to 24.4 per cent in 2018, according to ITU data.

While there is still a long way to go to bridge the digital divide, connectivity gains have helped improve lives in many parts of the African continent.

From shopkeepers in Kenya accepting mobile payments to drones delivering life-saving medical supplies in Rwanda to school girls learning job-ready skills through the ITU-UN Women African Girls Can CODE Initiative — Africa is transforming.

Transform Africa Summit

The recent Transform Africa Summit, powered by the Smart Africa Alliance, aimed to accelerate sustainable socio-economic development on the continent through affordable access to Broadband Internet and the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The Summit brought together 4000 participants including heads of government, Broadband Commissioners, regulators, International Organizations, industry leaders, investors, entrepreneurs, young innovators, civil society and academia to ensure that no one is left offline. The theme, “Boosting Africa’s Digital Economy,” recognizes the key role of digital technologies in the modern economy.

“Just a few weeks ago, ITU celebrated Girls in ICT Day at the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa. The special focus on Africa recognizes the enormous potential for leveraging technology to drive economic growth and development and accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “This conference has reinforced the role of ITU in key areas like deploying future networks in developing countries, and has extended our mandate to new areas like bridging the financial inclusion gap. These are key issues for Africa.”

Overcoming hurdles

Mr Zhao also stressed the importance of working with Africa’s Digital Ministers to develop a common strategic framework for Africa-wide digital priorities and initiatives.

“We need a Pan-Africa digital strategy and action plan,” said Mr Zhao. “I’m eager to see this discussion develop, knowing that such frameworks can help overcome the hurdles to investment that can often stifle progress.”

Mr Zhao also mentioned the recent meeting of ICT Ministers from across Africa at ITU’s headquarters in Geneva, and ITU’s role in the ‘Digital Infrastructure for Africa Moonshot Programme.

Think big, think fresh

“Africa cannot afford to think small or act slowly,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “At the current rate of progress, hundreds of millions of African children will still be denied the opportunity to realize their potential. Without more rapid digital transformation, Africa will not succeed in creating the huge number of new jobs needed to match its population growth.”

Building a solid digital economy will require a focus in key areas, such as: digital infrastructure, digital literacy and skills, digital financial services, digital platforms, and digital entrepreneurship and innovation, says Ms Bogdan-Martin.

“Can we attain the goal of universal and affordable access to broadband for all Africans by 2030? Not without a paradigm shift,” says Ms Bogdan-Martin. “Africa’s digital transformation is going to need all hands on deck. We need to work together more effectively; engage old and new partners more effectively; innovate more effectively.”

“We need a coordinated effort to push forward the digital transformation of Africa through shared vision, policies and measures to support pan-African digital integration,” says Ms Bogdan-Martin. “Digital transformation will provide the springboard for a leap into the African Century. Africa’s youth are ready and waiting to make that leap. We must not let them down.”