2022 U.S.-Africa Business Summit – High-Level Dialogue on Narrowing Africa’s Digital Divide in a Post-COVID World
His Excellency President Masisi from Botswana kicked off this session with a keynote session, which was then followed by a high level panel of experts discussing how ICT can accelerate the post-pandemic economic recovery, while also creating the infrastructure necessary to take full advantage of the more integrated market under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). This session identified the most important policies and regulations to build on innovations in health, energy, and consumer goods, among other sectors, as well as highlighting the kinds of partnerships between the public and private sector that can narrow Africa’s digital divide and increase Africa’s productivity. Dr. Witney Schneidman, Africa Practice Lead from Covington moderated the dialogue, which included Ousmane Diagana, World Bank Regional Vice President for Western and Central Africa, Enoh Ebong, Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Aida Diarra, Visa Senior Vice President and Group Country Manager for Sub Saharan Africa, John Olajide, Axxess Founder and CEO, Annick Sakho, Oracle Regional Director, and Mehdi Tazi, CGEM General Vice President.
President Masisi noted the importance Botswana has put on implementing a digital transformation of the economy, including expanding investments in broadband and fiber, and increasing access to international networks through undersea and terrestrial cables. These are all part of a national strategy to pursue Fourth Industrial Revolution opportunities and create a knowledge based economy by 2036. This requires a comprehensive transition from Botswana’s current status as an upper Middle Income Country to a High Income Country. Botswana is also pursuing strategies to increase exports across Africa, leveraging access to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (“the country is land-linked, not land-locked”), including instituting a national business roadmap, which they are putting in place with the help of UNCTAD, to promote investments. President Masisi stressed his government is looking to reduce bureaucratic impediments to business, while also putting in place the right regulatory framework and infrastructure, including hardware and software, and promulgating regulations on privacy and data protection that encourage investments.
World Bank VP Diagana noted the importance of the Bank’s digital moonshot, which envisions $100 billion of investment by 2030 to narrow the comparative gap Africa has in access to internet. He noted that closing this gap depends on providing sufficient access to energy and implementing the right policies and regulations. Data affordability is also a critical gap, however. The World Bank has invested $5.6 billion in projects in 26 countries, and IDA will extend $65 billion in concessional loans over the next three years in energy, agriculture, digital, education and health. Enoh Ebong explained the programs USTDA offers to boost ICT investments in Africa, including its Access Africa program (announced in 2019 at the Maputo CCA Summit). These are now part of the U.S. Government’s program to support global infrastructure (PGII). She noted that there will be further important announcements in December at the African Leaders’ Summit in Washington.
The companies on the panel highlighted the investments that they are making to increase access to digital services. Visa VP Diarra explained the innovative policies her company is pursuing across 48 countries to expand e-commerce and use of digital payments to build on the significant expansion of on-line commerce during the pandemic, led by small companies. AfCFTA is proving a strong catalyst for even more e-commerce, but this underscores getting the provisions of the AfCFTA protocol on digital trade right, including putting in place strong measures on security and consumer ID that match the protection levels in developed markets. Oracle stressed the importance of building the skills African consumers need to take fuller advantage of internet access, and detailed the great work their Academy is doing in West Africa, as well as the lab with more than 1000 researchers that they have set up on the continent. John Olajide explained the digital services that Axxess offers and the potential they can unlock. While he embraced the opportunity African countries offer, he also cautioned leaders about the importance of making it easy to create businesses as a key component to realizing the full potenhttps://youtu.be/DDxBXDFqaOUtial of the digital economy.
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