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African Countries Urged to Step up Investment to Close Digital Gaps

ADDIS ABABA – African governments need to step up their investment in digital infrastructure to bridge connectivity gaps, especially in urban-rural disparity, said AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy.

The rural-urban disparity in digital infrastructure investment remains huge in Africa. Only 6% of rural areas have some form of digital connectivity in part because there are few incentives to attract private sector investment, according to the African Development Bank.

The continent also has the lowest number of Internet connections with only 36 percent of Africans having access. The global average is 62.5 percent.

Speaking on the sideline of the African Internet Governance Forum 2022, AU Commissioner Amani Abu-Zeid underlined the need to devise ways to keep pace with the increasing demand for digital infrastructure and bridge connectivity gaps.

Such efforts, Amani said, have to focus on addressing urban-rural disparity as well as the gender digital divide to create decent jobs for Africa’s younger population.

“We have a young population with about 65 percent of working age. We do believe that Africa has all to offer to young people when it is integrated,” the Commissioner told the Forum held in Malawi last week.

She also called upon regional and international partners “to invest in the bankable and impactful projects under Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) which packages regional and continental priorities in the energy, transport and digital sectors”.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports say the digital technology industry has grown in the continent mainly because to the young Africans responding to the challenges posed by the pandemic with digital technology.

in the past two years, Commissioner Amani said digital technologies have proven to be the lifeline that “made our communications easy, our work going and businesses functioning.”

“We can’t go back as we need to ensure digitalization is deep-rooted in our economies since our ultimate goal is to create a single digital market for a united Africa,” she added.

Maintaining the momentum of the tech sector’s growth in Africa requires not only improved internet connectivity but also other basic investments such as electricity and literacy.

Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera stated that his government attaches high priority to digitalization stating, “the vision for a ‘digital Africa’ can only be realized if we invest in indigenous solutions and workforce to drive this transformation.”

“Africa must be a leader in this revolution with its youthful population is already strategically positioned to create tailored made digital solutions for Africa’s problems,” the President told the Forum.

Experts say the digitization push should also be backed with regulations, policies, standards, and protocols to maintain data protection, privacy, cybersecurity, and overall internet governance.

AUC’s Senior Policy Officer Adil Sulieman emphasized that the increasingly digital and data-driven information society comes with new risks and challenges. It, therefore, needs new rules that would generate trust, protect and secure data across the entire value chain, particularly for the vulnerable and marginalized groups including children, he said.