Speech: Sharing Digital Technology Dividends & Bridging the Digital Divide

 In speech

The China-Africa Internet Development And Cooperation Forum

Speech by a senior African diplomat in China at the China-Africa Internet Development And Cooperation Forum in Beijing (August 2021). Recommendations by the Development Reimagined team for the FOCAC 2021 action plan are provided below.

FULL SPEECH:

Internet is today- what maritime was in the past centuries- in connecting countries, peoples, goods, and services. Today Internet is a force for good, an enabler of trade, creator of jobs; And facilitator of development. Internet is an important thread that weaves the World together.  It has become an essential need for our lives and prosperity.

In the wake of COVID 19, with lockdowns and travel restrictions, internet connectivity has proven to be more resilient compared to air and maritime connectivity. No other time than this, we have come to appreciate the need to ensure access to the Internet for all.  And no other time than now- it has been revealed how far we are- to meet the SDG target of ensuring access to the Internet for all by 2030.

So many people have been left behind. There is a potential of leaving half the humanity far behind by 2030 if China and Africa, with a combined population of 2.6 Billion people, won’t take extra efforts. Such a situation will lead to a digital divide.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It goes without saying that if we are to prosper together as one World, one humanity with shared prosperity, we ought to ensure that everywhere, every time and everyone can access the Internet and enjoys the dividends that come with it. To achieve this lofty goal, we need to work for digital justice.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Africa is trying to catch up with the global race to achieve the SDG target of the Internet for all.  According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), internet penetration in Africa has grown tenfold since the early 2000s. Not only that, but the continent is now home to over 600 tech hubs and counting.  And Africa was home to nearly half of the World’s mobile money in 2018, and my country, Tanzania, is one of the most developed mobile markets in the World. And Mobile technology is projected to see fast growth in Africa through the year 2025.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Despite the progress, Africa still has a long way to go. Nearly 300 million Africans live more than 50 kilometers from a fiber or cable broadband connection. In this regard, the lack of widespread availability of high-speed Internet remains a significant hurdle for Africa to harness the potential of digital transformation.

However, despite the hurdles that I have pointed out, you will agree that the digital divide in Africa is also an opportunity. It is an area with massive potential for investment with promising returns. It is evident with some success stories so far in this area. For example, when the COVID19 pandemic emerged last year, we saw many youth-driven start-ups with a digital footprint dramatically scaling up the delivery of online services and expanding their businesses across Africa.

According to Disrupt Africa, as of  August this year, over 300 African tech start-ups had raised more than US$ 1 billion compared to about US$ 700 million that was raised in the year 2020.

Further, a report by IBM indicated that there would be more investment in technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, and cloud in Africa as part of recovery strategy from the Covid-19 pandemic in the coming years. Such remarkable achievement is clear evidence of Existing Huge Potential amidst the current Digital Divide.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The story of digital transformation will not be complete without mentioning the role of China. It all started with Huawei – China’s largest telecommunications provider – entering Africa in the year 1998. Since then, we have witnessed a remarkable expansion of Huawei investment and activities across Africa. In Tanzania, for example, Huawei is on the frontline in building a digital workforce, serving more than 35 percent of Tanzania’s population since it was established in the year 2007.  Through their work in Tanzania, HUAWEI has created more than 1000 direct and indirect jobs and provided training to more than 2000 ICT engineers. Today, Huawei equipment constitutes 70 percent of the 4G infrastructure in Africa, and it was the first in the continent to offer 5G services.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is worth mentioning that China’s digital arm of its economic pursuits in Africa falls under the Digital Silk Road initiative, where Chinese companies have secured a significant share of the market in almost every segment of Africa’s digital economy. For example, in the mobile phones market, China’s Transsion Group holds 40 percent of the smartphone market and 64 percent of the feature phone market. Transsion has also partnered with NetEase and Tencent to launch applications in music streaming, social media, fintech, and e-commerce.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

While appreciating the role and impact of Chinese companies in Africa’s digital transformation, I must take this opportunity to challenge Chinese companies to do more.

I say so, knowing the potential that exists in Africa to absorb these investments and the mighty capacity of China to harness and seize them.   Comparing the two, I can say both sides have not done enough. We have not lived up to the expectations. It is an opportunity to reflect. And a chance to act!

This China-Africa Internet Development and Cooperation Forum is, therefore, a step in the right direction. It presents us with an opportunity to chat out the way forward.  Due to the Internet’s importance and digital transformation agenda, we cannot afford to take this matter as a footnote in China-Africa cooperation.  It has to find a place on the table.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

The fact that this Forum is taking place three months before the FOCAC Ministerial Meeting in Dakar, Senegal, gives me a lot of optimism. I sincerely hope that the outcome of this Forum will provide valuable input to the Dakar Ministerial meeting. Ultimately, we wish to see China-Africa Digital Cooperation Initiative included in the next FOCAC Plan of Action for 2022-2024. I guess this is not too much to ask. It is possible; it is achievable! I thank you all for listening.

 

DEVELOPMENT REIMAGINED’S RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • First, at the country level, digitalisation must become a top development priority for African governments, with necessary policy reforms and budgetary allocations to accelerate digitalisation and deliver on shared prosperity. We’ve seen that African governments are working on this- to create a regulatory and policy environment that allows innovation and technologies to flourish, alongside welcoming investment. This includes innovation-friendly regulations for issues such as intellectual property, and regulation that supports data protection but does not strangle the free flow of data across borders.
  • Second, we have seen how China has managed to leverage its market size and potential to influence how foreign investors behave in China and how they enter the market. This is an important lesson for Africa. At the regulatory level, African countries will continue to collaborate and use their collective market potential to attract foreign businesses and investors. We hope Chinese investors will continue to invest in this area.
  • Third, as a continent Africa must build more soft and hard infrastructure for a well-positioned African digital economy, through expanded access to digital technologies, wider internet adoption, improved public expenditure on information communications technology infrastructure, and a more conducive regulatory environment for private sector investments in the sector. This is no small task and DR hope China continue to support this endeavour.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to exposure weakness in Africa’s digital systems but it also offers an opportunity to accelerate change. Africa, as a dynamic and growing continent has much to learn from China but as a continent Africa also provide substantial opportunities for engagement, particular in digital development.

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Want to find out more about Development Reimagined’s projects on FOCAC 2021– click here

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