Telecommunications And Technology: Driving A Sustainable Digital Revolution For Africa’s Tomorrow

Author: Chele Moyo, TMT Coverage Banker at Absa CIB & Barbara Asafu-Adjaye, Head of TMT, Absa Ghana

Barbara

Sub-Saharan Africa stands at the brink of a digital revolution, where telecommunications and technology are poised to be the driving forces behind sustainable socio-economic development. With a youthful population and vast economic opportunities, the region is embracing digital transformation as a pathway to inclusive growth and prosperity. 

We believe there will be a few key drivers of this digital transformation on the continent that will unlock significant economic value in the years to come. 

AU Digital Transformation Strategy

The first is the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy which outlines a bold vision for an integrated and inclusive digital society and economy in Africa. 

Key objectives include building a secured Digital Single Market, ensuring digital empowerment for all citizens, and creating a harmonised environment for investment and innovation. Central to this vision is the development of digital infrastructure, including telecommunications networks, broadband connectivity, and digital platforms, to facilitate inclusive growth and development.

For this to be achieved, a number of elements will need to be integrated. 

This includes the implementation of laws and regulations required to stimulate and accelerate digital transformation for national, regional, and continental development – particularly in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). To this end, there is a desire to develop policies and regulations and establish and improve digital networks and services with a view to strengthening intra-Africa trade, intra-investment and capital flows and the socio-economic integration of the continent, while maintaining a relational balance with other continents in the context of networked economies.

Digital Infrastructure and Connectivity

Access to affordable, reliable digital infrastructure is fundamental to achieving inclusive digital transformation. 

Despite significant progress, nearly 300 million Africans still lack access to high-speed broadband internet. Mobile devices remain the primary means of internet access, highlighting the importance of mobile networks in bridging the digital divide. However, high taxes and levies on the mobile sector pose challenges to affordability and accessibility, hindering widespread adoption of digital services. While 5G technology holds promise for enhancing connectivity and driving innovation, its adoption in Africa remains nascent. 3G and 4G remain the dominant sources of connectivity across the continent, with mobile network operators looking to improve accessibility by increasing access to low-cost smartphones.

As of now, only a few countries have launched commercial 5G services, with South Africa and Nigeria leading the way. 

However, increasing broadband speeds and spectrum allocation are critical steps towards unlocking the full potential of advanced technologies. The benefits of which include increased productivity, innovation, and economic growth. With ongoing investment in telecommunications infrastructure and supportive regulatory frameworks, improved affordable connectivity and access to higher speed broadband has the potential to propel Sub-Saharan Africa into the forefront of the global digital economy.

Building Digital Skills 

To realize the full benefits of digital transformation, Sub-Saharan Africa must overcome various challenges, including limited access to infrastructure, high tax burdens on the mobile sector, and a lack of digital skills. 

Investing in human capital and cultivating a skilled workforce is crucial for harnessing the potential of emerging technologies. Moreover, addressing regulatory barriers and promoting collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society is essential for fostering an enabling environment for digital innovation and entrepreneurship.

Absa has recognised this challenge and has invested in a number of digital initiatives across the continent including a world-class Cyber-Security academy aimed at tackling a rising global scourge of Cyber-crime. 

The Role of Mobile Money and Financial Inclusion

Mobile Money has emerged as a powerful tool for promoting financial inclusion and driving economic growth in Africa. 

In countries like Ghana, the growth of mobile money has led to significant improvements in financial access and inclusion. However, the imposition of taxes and levies on mobile services, such as the E-levy in Ghana, poses risks to the affordability and accessibility of mobile money services. Balancing the need for revenue generation with the goal of promoting financial inclusion is crucial for sustaining the momentum of digital transformation.

Telecommunications and technology have the potential to catalyse sustainable development and inclusive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a leading Pan-African banking group, we are passionate about the role that technology will play in economic growth and we look forward to being a partner of choice to technology entrepreneurs across Africa.

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