By 2025, the internet will contribute up to $300billion to Africa’s annual GDP. Achieving this will require African governments to speed-up the implementation of various inclusive digital transformation strategies. However, a multi-stakeholder engagement with the private sector, civil society organizations and media is needed to ensure everyone benefits equally from the opportunities derived from the digitally enabled economy.
To identify possible ways of inclusive engagements in Africa, the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), in collaboration with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), organised its inaugural Africa Roundtable on Digital Inclusion. The virtual event brought together diverse stakeholder groups from several African countries to discuss ways of fostering coordinated multi-stakeholder actions in Africa toward digital inclusion and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Stakeholders need to work together
Current restrictive digital regulatory policies in most African countries, with limited inclusive stakeholder consultation, exacerbate the exclusion of many marginalized groups and communities from participating in the digital economy. Also, digital inclusion programmes are mostly centred in urban areas, leaving rural communities behind.
Everyone is addressing these issues, but mostly done in the urban area. When are we going to rural areas, the digital divide is much wider, says Joan Katambi, Founder and Team Leader, Digital Literacy Initiative.
The continent has seen either limited or scattered digital inclusion programmes implemented by digital technology companies, international development organisations and governments to provide affordable internet access and equip young people with digitals skills. For example, Cisco’s networking academy has provided digital training to over 800,000 students in Africa while Twitter and Google have established their Research and Development centres on the continent.
We’re discussing the problem, but what’s important is what we’re going to do together, says Lourdes O. Montenegro – Lead Digital Sector Transformation, WBA.
To avert the risk of excluding millions of Africans whose lives are dependent on digital technologies, the private sector, with their skills and infrastructure capabilities, must promptly collaborate with governments and local partners to conceptualize and deploy meaningful digital inclusion programs in excluded communities.
When we go to a country, we go to the country with an initiative for partnership. We should not say, here is an initiative, please carry it out. We should say here is an opportunity for us to build this together for your people, says Mr. Andrew Rugege, Regional Director for Africa, International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Africa faces key challenges – creating and strengthening a framework for coordination among stakeholders, aligning policies and sector regulation, which must be surmounted to ensure an inclusive digital economy.
Collaboration especially between the private and public sectors are very key. When it comes to the collaborative effort, inclusion can be easily achieved across the different various sectors, says Edrine Wanyama, Legal Officer at CIPESA.
Measuring digital inclusion efforts of the private sector
There have been pan-African actions taken to mobilise stakeholders to achieve digital inclusion, including the development of the African Union’s pan-African Digital Transformation Strategy, but these efforts need to be measured, well-coordinated and scaled up. The UN’s Digital Cooperation Roadmap recommends the need to have a set of metrics to measure efforts of stakeholders, especially the private sector, towards digital inclusion.
In 2020, WBA launched the first-ever Digital Inclusion Benchmark to fill this gap of developing inclusive metrics to assess the contributions of the world’s 100 largest digital companies towards digital inclusion. Out of the 100 digital companies assessed, four are headquartered in Africa, no African digital company was among the top 20 – Safaricom [30/100], Jumia [91/100], MTN [45/100], and Naspers [48/100]. The assessed digital technology companies were measured and scored using a very comprehensive and holistic approach.
These inclusive metrics can be a source of data for African governments to improve current partnerships and developing evidence-based policies for digital inclusion in Africa. As remarked by Lourdes O. Montenegro,
The data we’re providing on what the private sector is doing – or not doing enough of – already triggers our thinking on what public policy actions we need to do, what do thinktanks need to do, what do governments need to do.
WBA welcomes more civil society organizations from Sub-Sharan Africa to join our Alliance and collectively work together to improve digital inclusion in the region.
Access to the full video of the ‘African Roundtable on Digital Inclusion’ can be found on our YouTube channel. To learn more about the work of WBA and the Digital Inclusion Benchmark follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.