In 2016, during the World Economic Forum, world and business leaders agreed that the Fourth Industrial Revolution had
New digital trends are already radically transforming the business landscape, reshaping the nature of work and the structure of enterprises, spurring innovation both in services and business models. The new digital age is also making knowledge ubiquitous and enabling access to international markets.
There is compelling evidence that the use of digital technologies will create new opportunities for economic growth, greater innovation and boost Africa’s global competitiveness, whilst supporting its market integration and transition to knowledge-based economies. The digital economy is already the single most important driver of innovation, competitiveness, and growth in Africa despite the fact that almost half of African countries are low-income countries with a GDP per capita of less than $1035.
Africa has already made impressive innovative advances with
The African Union (AU) and African Governments and entities like the World Bank and Smart Africa and others have already
With all these important and groundbreaking initiatives to accelerate the digital economy, there is a need to have a Pan-African vision and an
Proposing a pan-African vision for the digital economy
Over the last eighteen months, the Next Einstein Forum has been working on a Pan-African operational roadmap for the digital economy 2020-2050. This roadmap is preceded by a draft common vision for the digital economy from an African perspective.
On this, we developed a conceptual framework to guide this process. The proposed framework is dynamic, with interlinked building blocks, to account for the specific and varying levels of development at a country level as well as infusing a continental perspective.
This framework proposes five building blocks or pillars that support the development of a thriving digital economy. The framework
An enabling environment requires the
The digital economy relies on emerging technologies and the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) in consultation with the NEF Community of Scientists, who are among the leading African scientists and researchers, proposed the most important technologies that African countries should focus on both in the immediate and long term.
But these technologies cannot be harnessed without the talent to create and harness technology. The lack of strategies that enable research and easy piloting of innovation in Africa is a concern. Developing innovative funding instruments that support research and development as well as scaling up of innovative projects will accelerate the industrialization of African countries.
Skills, skills, skills.
This brings in a key area: Human capital development. As we know, the digital economy has the potential to unlock millions of jobs with 85% of the jobs in 2030 not yet invented. This implies that the future of work is uncertain and we need to prepare young people with agile creative and problem-solving skills as well as the ability to adapt to new situations to prepare young people to meet market needs and create new markets. This requires a robust education ecosystem to provide these competencies and skills. Here again, the private sector can play a key role in shaping this education ecosystem by investing and partnering with higher learning institutions on research and development. The private sector can also provide internships and support other forms of work-integrated options etc. The key here
Quick wins, long term gains
On the above framework, we believe African countries and other Pan-African entities should create consortiums alongside each pillar of the framework in order to accelerate the digitization of various economic sectors especially in the areas where they are already heavily investing in and supporting. Such examples would include entities like the World Bank and African Development Bank continuing to support the rapid development of basic infrastructure for African countries with emphasis on removing siloed projects that do not create continent-wide infrastructure. Institutions like Smart Africa, which is spearheading the One Area Network initiative and other initiatives that support bringing digital infrastructures to all Africans at an affordable cost could partner with like-minded institutions to support the development of digital infrastructures across Africa. Higher learning institutions and training companies like the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Carnegie Mellon University Africa, Andela are already experimenting and succeeding at producing qualified African talents in emerging technologies like AI, data science, cybersecurity, to name a few. These institutions are well-positioned to create a consortium and develop an operational roadmap for human capital development.
These are some tangible and quick wins for the entire continent to build up on the individual efforts that are being implemented to accelerate the digital transformation of Africa.
The Next Einstein Forum has been working on used cases and operational roadmaps for various economic sectors like health, agriculture, trade, to name a few. We will continue to build on these efforts seeking input from academic, public and private actors.
Our formula is simple. We are encouraging governments, development bodies and the private sector to endorse the proposed digital economy vision, invest in basic and digital infrastructure, align policies and investment instruments, invest in research and development to create African solutions by developing a robust human capital pipeline with the goal of accelerating African countries’ economic development.
The case of trade and logistics through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)
On 30 May 2019, the AfCFTA will go into effect following ratification by 22 African countries. The momentous agreement will create the largest trade zone in the world. The AfCFTA’s main objective is to increase intra-African trade and reduce trade barriers such as tariffs on 90% of goods by 2022.
In order to accelerate the free trade area, there is
If the goal is to eliminate 90% of tariff barriers by 2022, we have some ways to go. Today, classification of most goods is subject to individual countries. It is in this area that we urgently need a Pan-African consortium that would harmonise most of the goods across Africa to ensure that exemptions are similar and defined in the same way across Africa.
Trust across the trade value chain process is going to be an important factor to ensure that the AfCFTA succeeds. For that, there is
Digital must build on basic infrastructure
Other than regulation, African countries should not neglect basic infrastructure to rely solely on the “
By 2030, it is estimated that Africa’s household consumption will be $2.5 trillion. If the AfCFTA is properly implemented and we reach the set goals by 2022, Africa will be an undeniable market. For that, African countries should be the first beneficiaries by creating the appropriate industries, innovating across all the key enabling technologies and more importantly transitioning African countries to digital economies which will accelerate their economic growth to
Dr. Youssef Travaly, a physicist and