The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Portulans Institute, a research and educational think tank based in Washington DC, have teamed up to launch the results and rankings of the think tank’s latest edition of the Network Readiness Report (NRI 2020) in a bid to assess how countries are leveraging information technologies for future readiness.
According to the Report, Africa continues to trail behind other regions on issues of access, affordability and usage of ICTs. It notes that once the “ripple effect” of COVID starts to hit international trade and investment flows, such divergences between “network-ready economies” and “laggards” may be amplified.
The analysis shows that digital innovation and entrepreneurship have increased on the Continent, with more than 400 digital hubs in Africa in 93 cities, including over 130 new hubs opening in the last two years. Collectively, they are generating more than $1.1 billion.
Contextualising the analysis on the events of 2020, the Report notes that the race to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic stimulated innovation and creativity across Africa, which showed the continent’s potential towards accelerating industrial development, including those based on home-grown technologies.
The authors, however, note that use of digital technology in Africa remains low due to critical barriers that limit its potential to transform the Continent. The digital technology terrain’s challenges are numerous and are compounded by:
- Limited access to the digital services;
- Inadequate and or restrictive policies, legal and regulatory frameworks;
- Shortage of skilled labour and expertise;
- Minimal interoperability of platforms;
- Lack of standardisation of data; and
- Connectivity issues.
These, the Report stresses, need to be addressed, for Africa to fully harness the benefits of the digital era.
In response to the issues raised in the report, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ECA Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, said, “We need to focus on access, cost and speed. All these are about regulation and how we can better shape public private partnerships for the continent to effectively harness digitalization and innovation.”
“The Network Readiness Index shows that Africa needs to do more faster and soon to ensure the continent bridges the ICT access and affordability gap. The ECA will continue to provide technical assistance for member States in that regard.”
She also stressed that African governments need to do more to seize on the opportunities of the global digital economy, which is set to grow from $11.5 trillion in 2016 to over $23 trillion by 2025.
“We want Africa to be part of today’s networked world. Digital technologies will no doubt play a critical role in Africa’s quest to attain the sustainable development goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063, the Africa we Want and improve the way we do business,” Ms Songwe said, adding quality, access and reach were key to addressing connectivity issues on the continent and that policy needs to be nurtured and developed for Africa to get there.
The Report underlines that the ability of national economies to sustain efforts to allow reskilling and up-skilling of their local workforce and talents is key to their future. Recovery packages will have a key role to play in this regard.
For his part, Bruno Lanvin, co-founder of Portulans Institute, and co-author of the report said, “The COVID crisis showed how digital technologies could help us be better organized and more resilient when facing unprecedented challenges. However, the economic and social crisis that will follow has hardly started to be felt. To face the threats of massive unemployment and growing inequalities, digital transformation is now an urgent obligation, in Africa as in the rest of the world.”
The NRI model recognizes the pervasiveness of digital technologies in today’s networked world and rests on four fundamental dimensions: Technology, People, Governance and Impact. This holistic approach means that the NRI covers issues ranging from future technologies such as AI and Internet of Things (IoT) to the role of digital transformation in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
On this model, Soumitra Dutta, co-founder of Portulans Institute and co-author of the report underscored that: “The main concept underlying the new NRI model is that our collective future will require a harmonious integration of people and technology. People and technology will increasingly interact as collaborators and partners in most parts of society and business. To ensure the effectiveness of this integration, appropriate governance mechanisms will have to be implemented to address issues related to trust, security, and inclusion”.
This year, the knowledge partner for the NRI report is STL, an industry-leading integrator of digital networks. At the launch of the report, STL’s Group CEO, Anand Agarwal, commented: “We believe that great digital networks are the core platforms for better human collaboration and a better world. The Network Readiness Index is a powerful tool to help companies and nations transform digitally. Digital Network Integrators like STL, are working diligently towards our responsibility to make networks efficient and affordable.”
Learn More: United Nations Economic Commission for Africa