Digital manifesto to bridge access gap, end exclusion

Monday November 18 2019

Youth at the Sahara Accelerator, a technology and enterprise consultancy based at the Silicon Dar in Tanzania.

Youth at the Sahara Accelerator, a technology and enterprise consultancy based at the Silicon Dar in Tanzania. PHOTO | BEATRICE MATERU | NMG 

NJIRAINI MUCHIRA
By NJIRAINI MUCHIRA
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Governments in Africa need to develop holistic digital strategies that are citizen-centric to guarantee equitable skills development that will switch on economies for the digital age, a new report shows.

The Digital Manifesto—a 10-step guide for developing countries to get ahead in the digital age, by Pathways for Prosperity Commission on Technology and Inclusive Development—was launched in Nairobi on November 13 by the Commission’s co-chairs Melinda Gates, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Strive Masiywa, founder of pan-African telecommunications, technology and renewable energy group, Econet.

“Today, huge gender gaps in digital access are the norm in developing countries. If we invest in closing those gaps, women and girls can start to meet their untapped potential, building economies that are not only more equal but also more dynamic and ultimately more prosperous,” said Ms Gates.

“Digital technologies offer powerful tools to grow businesses and nations alike, enabling entrepreneurs access to markets and giving governments innovative ways to deliver better services,” said Mr Masiywa.

“However, without visionary policy planning and 21st century skills training for virtually everyone, these same technologies over time could lead to job losses and further financial exclusion of the poorest in our societies.”

The digital manifesto outlines steps for digital transformation including designing a holistic digital strategy, empowering citizens for the digital age, securing citizens’ data, providing a social safety net and building foundational digital systems.

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Other steps are nurturing an enabling investment environment, ending digital exclusion, transforming health and education, creating adaptive localised tech regulations and co-ordinating internationally.

Widening inequality

Failure to adapt to the digital age could widen the gap between rich and poor countries, as well as fuel inequalities within them, the Commission’s report says.

Millions of marginalised people, including the poorest, rural communities and women, could be left even further behind.

Africa’s labour force is projected to grow by 285 million people from 2010 to 2030—more than all the manufacturing jobs in China and India. Ensuring that there will be opportunities for these people will be key to economic growth.

“With new digital technologies come opportunities for low and middle-income countries to diversify their economies, create new jobs, transform agriculture and improve health and education,” the report states.

The commission has also developed a digital economy tool kit to address inequalities and future employment needs.

The kit, which has been piloted in Ethiopia, South Africa and Mongolia, provides a framework for countries to get digitally ready through holistic growth strategies that harness digital technologies across the economy.

It involves diagnostic assessment and strategic planning through an inclusive dialogue process that brings together stakeholders to craft a shared vision for the future.

While developing countries are embracing digital technologies, the rate of adoption remains slow. Some 80 per cent of people live close to a cellular internet signal yet only 30 per cent have used the service due to high costs and other barriers.

This past week, Kenya enacted data protection laws that set out the requirements for the protection of personal data processed by both public and private entities.

Despite the move, there are concerns that plans to tax the digital economy will hamper its growth.

To increase revenue collection, the National Treasury proposed the introduction of taxes on digital economic activities in the Finance Bill, 2019.

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