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Africa Needs Resilient Internet for Sustainable Growth

ADDIS ABABA – African countries have been urged to invest in building resilient internet infrastructure to tap digital opportunities and accelerate social and economic transformation on the continent.

Global leaders attending the 17th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) being held in Addis Ababa underscored the importance of digital technologies as tools for enhancing development across Africa.

“The internet’s contribution to social development is immense,” Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in his opening remarks at the IGF 2022.

The PM has listed out the democratization of knowledge and communication, access to entrepreneurship skills and job opportunities, health care, and education among “a few noteworthy ones”.

However, Abiy said there is a need for cautioned optimism around ownership of critical digital infrastructure, data governance, and cyber security as data governance was about harmonizing roles of the digital ecosystem to spur economic development while protecting individual rights.

‘Regulations outpaced’

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told participants that while digital technologies were transforming lives and livelihoods, they were outpacing regulations and exacerbating inequalities around the world. 

He called for a human-centered digital future based on a resilient internet that is open, inclusive, and secure for all in line with his proposed Global Digital Compact. 

The Global Digital Compact aims to deliver universal connectivity, close the digital divide and reach the millions of people who are not connected to the internet.

“The safe, secure human-centered digital space begins with the protection of free speech, freedom of expression, and the right to online autonomy and privacy,” said Guterres.

He went on to emphasize governments, private companies, and social media platforms’ responsibilities to prevent online bullying and misinformation that undermines democracy, human rights, and science.

“We need to work for a safe, equitable, and open digital future that does not infringe on privacy or dignity,” Guterres urged.

‘Harmonization needed’

Acting Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Antonio Pedro, said reducing the digital divide is essential to building new pathways for rapid economic growth, innovation, job creation, and access to services in Africa.

“Harmonizing regulations to remove barriers to connectivity both within African nations and across the continent is crucial,” said Pedro.

Harmonized regulations will facilitate the operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), he explained.

Statistics show that an estimated 871 million people are not connected to the internet in Africa and access was even limited in rural areas. 

The Free Trade agreement is expected to be key for Africa’s food and energy security and fosters competitiveness through economies of scale and improved market access, Pedro explained.

Bridging the digital skill gap

At least 70% of Africa’s population technically has access to mobile internet. 

But less than 25% are making use of the internet due to the high cost of mobile internet across the region.

“The lack of digital and literacy skills is another key barrier to achieving digital inclusion,” said Pedro.

“These skills gaps have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where the expansion of online education, e-healthcare, e-commerce, and remote work, have left a large portion of the population without internet access even further behind.”

He said the need for meaningful digital connectivity to boost sustainable development, particularly for the Least Developing Countries (LDCs), has never been more urgent. 

“Now is the time to double down on our effort to close the digital infrastructure gap, and to leverage digital technologies to power key initiatives in support of achieving a greener and more inclusive digital world, and a just and sustainable development for all,” said Pedro.

[Featured Image Credit Unsplash/Desola Lanre-Ologun]

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