Africa's Digital solutionsThe COVID-19 pandemic presents a chance for Africa to modernize by going digital, even after the socioeconomic consequences COVID-19 has wrought. Policies and economies have to be rebuilt and Africa has taken the steps to restore its nation with digitalization at the forefront. Through Africa’s digital solutions and technology innovations, the nation will become more sustainable, competitive and creative.

The Aftermath of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped increase the spread of new technology across Africa. The pandemic has spurred incredible creativity when it comes to technological innovations. According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization, Africans are responsible for 13% of all new or improved COVID-19 technology created. Two countries that have specially crafted technologies specific to the pandemic are Ghana and Tunisia.

Ghana created a COVID-19 tracking app and drones that deliver at-home COVID-19 tests as well as handwashing stations that are solar-powered. In Tunisia, a government ministry invented a robot to assist in enforcing lockdowns. Africa has made striking technological enhancements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, COVID-19 has also highlighted the digital divide between the wealthy and impoverished, online and offline.

The Digital Divide

The unequal access to information and communication technologies, or the digital divide, shines a light on the technological gap in developing countries. Due to the general delayed adoption of internet technology, Africa experiences difficulties overcoming barriers to long-term growth. Civil society and the commercial sectors cannot produce transformational progress alone. The digital divide in Africa is fueled by the continent’s socio-economic disparity. In order to transition to a digital society, governments must accelerate the use of digital technologies in all sectors.

Throughout the pandemic, digital media and technology have been critical, allowing for the continuance of work, communication and instruction. According to research by the International Telecommunication Union, only 28% of the African population has access to the internet. It is crucial to consider the many obstacles Africa has to overcome when it comes to digital technology. Not only is there a lack of internet access in Africa but the country also lacks electric power, access to education, social inclusion and more.

Africa cannot regress to pre-pandemic conditions as it recovers from COVID-19. Instead, Africa must create a brighter future that acknowledges the importance of digital transformation, particularly modern technology. Africa’s digital solutions can help overcome the continent’s complex challenges, including poverty, healthcare, industrialization, environmental degradation and government administration.

The Missing Piece: Policy

The majority of studies indicate that digital technologies are critical for solving global issues. However, technologies implemented without laws and policies that support new technological infrastructures rarely succeed long-term. With Africa’s digital solutions, the continent will be able to accelerate its transition to a sustainable and equitable economy.

For example, Rwanda, a country in Africa, is an excellent example of how the development of sustainable legislation can provide benefits to its citizens. Rwanda’s government has made significant investments in digital technology facilities, which resulted in 90% of the population having internet access and 75% of the population having mobile phones.

Enabling policies that provide digital technologies and promote their use will enhance Africa’s recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, it is essential to realize the importance of innovations through digital technologies and put action behind policies that support socioeconomic equality in Africa.

– Anna Lovelace
Photo: Unsplash

Africa's Digital Economy ContributesDigitalization is not new to the African economy. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to improve and expand Africa’s digital economy has become evident. With intentions to minimize the health and economic risks of the pandemic, African businesses are implementing strategies that will lead to the rise in digital transformation. Economic sectors such as banking, transportation, agriculture and telecommunication have already digitally evolved to adjust to the economic climate and health crisis. Most importantly, Africa’s digital economy contributes to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Developing Africa’s Digital Economy

The World Bank started the Digital Economy Initiative for Africa (DE4A) in mid-2019 to accelerate digital enabling achievements as part of the 2030 SDGs. As the COVID-19 pandemic transpired, the rise in digitalization laid expectations for more transformations in the coming years. With investments being made, Africa’s booming digital economy contributes greatly to the SDGs.

A digital economy would create more jobs, promote entrepreneurship and introduce new markets. Reaching DE4A’s targets would raise growth per capita by 1.5 percentage points annually and poverty would be reduced by 0.7 percentage points per year. In addition, this approach takes into account that only 27% of the African population has access to the internet. Increasing access to digital resources will be the focus of the five pillars of the DE4A. This includes digital infrastructure, digital public platforms, digital financial services, digital businesses and skills.

Growing the Economy by Promoting Digital Transformation

The African Union (AU) has launched the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-2030). The initiative strives for a collaborative digital single market, building on the recent trade initiative, Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This would facilitate the movement of digitized services and propel the expansion of internet access across the continent.

Notably, the initiative also promotes innovation and digital upskilling with development programs. The e-skills vocational program will reach 100 million Africans a year by 2021 and 300 million annually by 2025. This would not only integrate Africa into the digital era but create new opportunities for startup businesses.

An important tool to achieve the initiative’s objectives is collaboration with policymakers. The government plays an important role in the promotion of market transformation. As a result, the AU will propose actions to equip educational institutions with renovated technology, promote digital rights and security awareness.

Significant growth will occur when stable infrastructure is built for the 200 million people currently without internet access. Addressing this digital divide is how Africa’s digital economy contributes to the SDGs as it plans to build resilient infrastructure, create sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

Investing in Digital Resources

There are many investment opportunities in Africa’s digital economy as a myriad of sectors start transitions. For example, banking in Africa is experiencing major changes. Mobile-based digital banks provide access to transaction activity, savings, loans and other financial services. Banking in Africa is expected to increase to $53 billion by 2022 so long as digitalization continues, contributing to the DE4A’s digital financial service objective.

Additionally, large international corporations have set foot in Africa, which will further increase investment flow. In 2019, Amazon Web Service launched its first data center in Africa. Likewise, Microsoft expanded its cloud services and opened its first data centers in South Africa. With two of the biggest players in the global digital economy in Africa, increased access to methods for digital transformation for businesses becomes more feasible. Digital transformation in Africa has the potential to significantly reduce poverty on the continent.

Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo:Flickr