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Time for Africa to get serious about digital transformation

Digitalisation to drive DX and increase in ICT project rollout imperative for continent to realise AU’s Agenda 2063 ambitions.

Africa cannot afford to be complacent about digital transformation and the consensus among delegates that attended the recently hosted EU Africa Business Summit is that the issue is now an imperative if the continent is to overcome many of its perennial development and growth challenges.

This is according to George Asamani, Africa Business Development leader from Project Management Institute (PMI), who participated in a panel discussion at the Summit.

Discussion focused on digital transformation, the youth and female entrepreneurship.

Asamani said: “… there is now a massive realisation that digital transformation is a key driver of development and growth. In short, there is today a much more acute awareness that digital transformation offers Africa huge potential to overcome, even leapfrog, many of its perennial development and growth challenges.”

George Asamani, Africa Business Development Leader at PMI.
George Asamani, Africa Business Development Leader at PMI.

He referred to PMI research, the Global Megatrends 2022 Report, which lists technology as the number one trend currently shaping global development.

“As technology redefines human, social and economic behaviour, our ability to transform digitally is, increasingly, a key driver of success in the emerging new world order,” said Asamani.

The PMI executive highlights Africa’s progress, at least from a digitalisation point of view.

He added, “Digitalisation allows us to rethink the ways we approach finance, healthcare, rural access, or access to public services, and education. ICT infrastructures have developed steadily, and prospects for new projects remain robust.”

“Businesses are introducing new digital processes, pure play financial services firms are increasingly looking like technology companies and vice-versa, Fintechs are developing exciting new transaction capabilities for the unbanked and small businesses are scaling up their footprint! In short, Africa is alive with digital possibilities and platforms, many of them home grown - transforming how people interact, transact, grow wealth and make an impact.”

However, Asamani also acknowledges that internet connectivity in Africa remains a challenge.

“At under 40%, Africa's internet penetration compares unfavourably with the global average of some 60%. The divide is stark no doubt, and there are no two opinions about it. That said, several big tech firms like Musk's Starlink, Facebook, and Google and home-grown giants like MTN, are interested and invested in bringing fast internet to the continent.”

“Irrespective of where the connectivity comes from - satellite or the sea - getting as many Africans online should be a priority. According to the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU), increasing internet penetration in Africa to 75% can potentially create 44 million jobs. Depending on how well-developed connectivity is, Africa's internet economy can grow from the US$115-billion it was in 2020 to US$180-billion in 2025 and, subsequently, US$712-billion by 2050.”

Depending on how well-developed connectivity is, Africa's internet economy can grow from the US$115-billion it was in 2020 to US$180-billion in 2025 and, subsequently, US$712-billion by 2050.”

More good news, says Asamani, is that the World Bank is looking to help the continent achieve universal connectivity by 2030. “If that happens, the economic potential is enormous: Mobile technologies alone have generated 1.7 million jobs and contributed US$144-billion to the continent's economy, or roughly 8.5% of GDP (Brookings).”

Key enablers of DX

Regulation and policy continue to impact Africa’s digital transformation. Asamani believes regulators are key enablers when it comes to DX, and the objective is to make DX “an accessible reality”.

He says it is encouraged to see so many policy makers on the continent working to overcome the challenges to achieving this objective.

“We are doing our bit in support of policy makers to create environments where technology can be accessed by citizens to participate more meaningfully in growth and development.”

In conclusion, Asamani says the multidisciplinary and multi-faceted nature of digital transformation means it is not a single discipline or endeavour that specific sectors or government departments can manage.

“Instead, digital transformation like so many other features of the new economy demands a coordinated and collaborative approach. As such, the ability to manage complex, multi-disciplinary projects across sectors within countries and on continents will require skills to deliver these projects within budgets and on time.”

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