Digitalisation can accelerate growth for Africa

What will life look like in post-pandemic Africa? What are the existing challenges we must still fight to overcome, and how can a fresh perspective help us “build back better”?

Focusing on the positive, I see a bright future: one where we harness the spirit and energy our people showed during the worst of the coronavirus to create our best tomorrow. A future where we use the tools and brainpower developed in Africa to advance a smart, digital and inclusive continent.

This kind of optimism is backed up by more than hope. The creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in January 2021 is considered a game changer for trade, investment, infrastructure, the mobility of people and the development of services, according to a recent report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. This commitment to inter-regional trade will naturally promote cross-border collaboration, boost efficiency and improve the reputation of our “Made in Africa” brand.

Also feeding my optimism is the potential synergy between economic and digital transformation; specifically, the role of technology in facilitating trade, market access, information-sharing and innovation – all at scale.

However, tempering my optimism is the African Center for Economic Transformation’s (ACET) description of the AfCFTA as the last opportunity for Africa’s economic transformation. While the claim is somewhat alarmist, it reminds us of the barriers to progress, and how previous rising economic tides have not lifted all boats. In fact, the income gap between rich and poor has widened for most people in Africa despite the unprecedented growth in the 2000s.

The reality is many of these barriers still exist: the slow pace of policy change; an over-reliance on foreign products, investment and guidance; a “business as usual” approach that discourages innovation. These are the issues that have resulted in past economic opportunities being squandered as well as the growth in inequality.

Digital technology can be the great democratising force of this economic transition. Convincing our governments that developing our digital infrastructure through investment, training and building capacity in this sector is what we need to stimulate inclusive economic growth.

My vision: Digital services developed in Africa, on devices engineered by African-educated men and women, reaching the entire continent. Some may say this is a simplistic or unrealistic view, but to those people I say that tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today. To create a brighter future, we must first imagine it and then act on it.

man with computer