By Jean-Pierre Afadhali
Collaboration, investment in infrastructures, support innovation, digital firms, citizens’ digital literacy are critical to build a single digital market and boost the continent’s digital economy, experts and policymakers said.
Private sector, heads of states, leaders of international organizations gathered in Kigali, Rwanda in the just concluded Transform African Summit, an annual event to discuss ways Africa can leverage on ICTs to support its fourth industrial revolution, agreed there are potentials to make the continent a technology giant in the world.
However, there are still barriers that hinder the growth of a digital economy that could create jobs for mainly youth and add values to other sectors.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame noted that Africa will have to mobilize private resources to fully realize the fourth industrial revolution and better the lives of its population. “We have to unlock the private capital that is out there that can be put to good use for the benefits of the private sector also for the benefits of our citizens,”
According to Kagame the current chairman of Smart Africa Alliance, the organization that regroups 24 member states to boost the use of ICT to transform economic development of Africa; private sector cannot work alone also it also needs to partner with government.
According to estimates, Africa has the potential to add annual $ 75billion in e-commerce sales and an addition of $300billion to the overall African Gross Domestic Product, signaling the importance of digital economy in the continent’s economic transformation.
Experts said achieving digital economy in Africa will require collaboration, deal with data privacy issues, market concentration , and a leadership that boost innovation while Investing in services and products are affordable and accessible to the citizens.
Participants said there is no question about opportunities in Africa and digital technologies and data are unlocking new ways to drive productivity, economic growth and jobs especially for the youth.
One of areas Africa is leading tech innovation thanks to the growing telecom sector is mobile money transaction that has boosted significantly financial inclusion.
In Sub-Saharan Africa over $20 billion worth of Transactions are conducted through mobile financial solutions annually.
Kenya’s M-pesa was cited as one of the global innovations that started in Africa and boosted financial inclusion significantly.
Kenya’s president said the majority of Kenya is now financial included thanks to the mobile money product.
Innovation is boosting entrepreneurship in the continent’s digital economy but startups are not well supported to advance the economy.
The continent does not have blueprint to build the digital economy but experts, policymakers; private sector agreed that critical ingredients such as friendly business environments, appropriate business support and accessible infrastructure will boost Africa’s digital businesses.
Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, said Africa governments should support their startups like they do for foreign investors.
“Most African governments have Investment facilitation policies such as tax exemption, waivers of certain corporate obligations,” he noted “What you are doing for foreign investors do it for your startups,”
Dr Kituyi also advocate for mentorship programmes. There are such initiatives in some countries but they might not be enough amid growing number of young innovators.
One of recommendations from the digital economy forum is to build environment that continuously support innovation and entrepreneurship to level the playing field of its innovators.
There are growing innovation hubs and co-working spaces across Africa which is boosting entrepreneurship in Africa.
Various stakeholders in Africa’s ICT sector said enablers such as digital literacy will play a big role in job creation among the youth.
According to Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame Africa has all it takes to become a global digital economic giant.
“Everything we need to boost Africa’s digital economy is here in this room,” noted Kagame
Meanwhile Kenya launched the Digital Economy Blueprint that can be adopted by African countries to boost their digital economies.
Kenya’s Digital economy Blueprint for Africa proposes a framework to maximize the benefits of digitizing African economies.
The document identifies five pillars of the digital economy namely digital government, digital business, infrastructures, innovation driven entrepreneurship and digital skills and values.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said the East African country has put more efforts on infrastructures. “We have really focused on investment in fiber optic cable and now we are on stage of last mile,”
Uhuru added skills development is another priority to prepare people to reap the dividend of connectivity.
Adoption of technologies open up new opportunities for our young people to access online jobs,- noted the president of Republic of Kenya in his speech.
“All member states will find value in contextualizing the framework to their specific ecosystem s so that to realize the full potential of our digital transformation,” noted Uhuru while unveiling the blueprint.
Over 42 million people have access to internet in Kenya, while over 200 government services have been digitized.
At the continent level, cross border integration of digital markets into a single digital market for Africa have been cited crucial components in the journey to build digital revolution.
Cross border intervention will be critical Digital services to generate the economies of scale, network effects and cooperation to make African digital firms to compete regionally and globally and investment for digital infrastructure and enable access to digital services, e-commerce and opportunities for all citizens, read one of recommendations from discussion in digital economy.
Rwanda’s president Kagame called upon policymakers, and regulators have to bear in mind that they have put in place a kind framework that facilitates private and public investment.
His counterpart President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking during the launch of the digital economy Blueprint mentioned some Kenya’s hub that are known on African continent for their enabling environment to tech innovators.
There are still gaps in infrastructures such broadband and increase the uptake of digital services. Some of constraints to make Africa single digital markets are the same in the wider economy touching integration and cooperation and infrastructure.
“Data is moving like this air transport. When I make a call to President of Kenya or Mali, I think I am speaking to them directly but the call first had to take my voice to Europe to be inspected. How can we not be talking about these things?” posed President Kagame.
He likened some technology services like air transport saying it does not make a sense for a passenger going to Mali from Africa must land in Europe before connecting to Mali.
Participants agreed that collaboration and coordination at continent level will solve major problems Africa’s digital economy face.
Smart Africa Alliance has now has 24 members’ countries from 11 in 2016 when it was founded.
Despite the potential of digital technologies, there are also risks such as cybersecurity, misinformation and growing digital divide that increase inequality.
“We are innovators and thinkers we have our own products to sell we have our own story to tell,” said Mr.Kagame stressing on Africa’s potential to play a key role in global digital economy
Republic of Guinea will host next Transform Africa Summit.