“Digital and new technologies are profoundly changing societies, daily lives and ways of working. Technology is used to provide education, services and jobs. We buy and pay our bills online and we use the internet to stay in touch with our loved ones,” stated EU Ambassador Lotte Knudsen in her opening remarks on the event Towards Digital Africa. Despite this fundamental importance, about 46 % of the world’s population remain fully offline.
Connectivity is a vital driver for a more inclusive economic growth and African countries continuously work on strengthening the development of digital capacities, through initiatives such as the Smart Africa Alliance. While the continent reported the highest growth rate of internet access over the past decade, still only less than 10 % are connected to the internet in the least developed regions. Further figures complete the picture: the internet usage rate of individuals is below 30 %, internet access at home is at a mere 14.3 % and only 7.7 % of households have access to a computer at home. Taking into account the widening digital gender gap, these numbers show a multifaceted digital divide on the African continent.
Looking at different economic sectors, the digitalisation is still at an initial stage in a number of African states. Topics such as the Internet of Things, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence are slowly evolving. While many of the African countries have embraced digitalisation as part of their development and growth strategies, the potential for the digital transformation to further improve the African socio-economic structure remains undeniable huge. These potentials also contain risks and challenges – many of these being shared ones. Digital cooperation therefore represents a key pillar of the Africa-EU Partnership.
Africa’s population is the youngest worldwide, thus the digital economy contains the prerequisite to equip young people with digital skills for the future opening up new opportunities and jobs.
During the event, five cooperation programmes and initiatives to shape and advance Africa’s digital economies and societies were presented: The Digital 4 Development Hub, PRIDA (Policy and Regulation Initiative for Digital Africa), Horn of Africa: Digitalization of Governmental Services, Giga: Connecting Every School to the Internet and the African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI). Speakers included:
The event also built on the EU-AU Ministerial Meeting on 25 – 26 October 2021 where the Digital 4 Development Hub, PRIDA as well as the Data Policy Framework for Africa and the AU Digital Transformation Strategy were welcomed by ministers. They emphasized the importance of a strong partnership to build an inclusive, sustainable digital economy and society for all citizens, preserving universal values in the digital age to build more democratic equitable and accountable societies for all.
Furthermore, EU-AU ministers recognized the digital transformation as holding great potential for boosting sustainable and inclusive economic growth, decent jobs and investments through the modernization of traditional sectors, as well as the development of emerging businesses.
The joint AU-EU-ITU event Towards Digital Africa was well received with a high interest for a regular exchange. Collectively, we do still see a huge potential to do more and strengthen our partnership through promoting shared values and joint interests. While we are planning further EU-AU Dialogues and an EU-AU summit in 2022, it is also crucial to enhance the cooperation through Geneva based processes.
Further interesting and meaningful multilateral developments and cooperation projects can be expected from the 2022 World Telecommunication Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.