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FEATURE STORY May 6, 2019

Achieving Africa’s Digital Transformation is an Ambition that Requires Game-changing Cooperation

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On April 11th, 2019, during the World Bank Group - IMF Spring Meetings, a high-level roundtable gathered development partners in Washington DC to discuss coordinated support for African countries’ digital development efforts. The meeting affirmed strong interest in the African Union’s new Digital Transformation agenda and the Digital Moonshot initiative in support of it. It underlined the need for game-changing cooperation and partnerships to achieve the objective to digitally enable every African individual, business and government by 2030.

A strategy proposition made in Africa for Africans supported by dozens of partners

“All African countries, without exception, are thinking about digitalization very seriously,” said Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, the AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy. According to the Commissioner, a common framework will help Africans “bring new innovations to the world, as they have already done in mobile technology and mobile financial services.”

Donor partners were strongly supportive. “The Digital Moonshot initiative will help in reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals by ensuring that developing countries benefit fully from new digital solutions,” said Dag-Inge Ulstein, Norway’s Minister of International Development.

For Ulla Tornaes, Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation, “the most important part of the initiative is that national governments in Africa are bold, ambitious, and ready for a change.”

“Today’s meeting creates a momentum,” said Jean Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, who suggested to connect the effort to the work agenda currently being advanced under the French G7 leadership.

In similar vein, Mabito Yoshida, Director-General at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Japan, highlighted Japan’s willingness to support this agenda during its current G20 presidency, which will also help secure additional partners.

An ecosystem approach beyond broadband deployment

Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice-President for Infrastructure, stressed the Bank’s strong commitment to the Moonshot. “We are here to help realize this comprehensive and holistic initiative,” he said, noting that the new initiative will go beyond broadband connectivity to also cover “e-government transformation, Fintech, investment in human capital and digital literacy, innovation-friendly policies that foster entrepreneurship and cutting-edge technologies such as machine-learning and artificial intelligence.”

For Diop, digital transformation crucially requires an ecosystem approach, and therefore the involvement of a range of different teams in the World Bank Group, both from the World Bank and the IFC.

An impactful digital transformation must be inclusive

All participants unanimously called for a digital transformation agenda prioritizing digital inclusion, including with a focus on women. “Digital rights are human rights,” indicated Doug Britt, representing USAID. Marko Berglund, representing Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, added that “the Digital Moonshot initiative should have a rights perspective, women who are not yet connected have the right to access digital systems.”

If implemented with the appropriate policies and business incentives, a perspective on inclusion could help “mitigate the possible negative effects of the digital transformation,” said Christopher Burns, Director of the Center for Digital Development at USAID.

No stakeholder can alone achieve this ambition digital agenda

The roundtable stressed the need for multi-stakeholder cooperation. Some collaborative initiatives in the digital development field have already paved the way for innovative partnerships. In particular, the European Union has over the last months significantly stepped up its involvement in the digital agenda, including in light of the preparation of the EU’s new External Development Fund (EDF).

“We have made great progress through the EU-AU Digital Economy Task Force,” said Stefano Manservisi, Director General of the European Union’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO). First outcomes of this partnership are expected to be shared during the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali in May 2019, he said.


The current level of cooperation is not enough

However, better awareness about what each actor is working on, and better coordination between different work programs, will be necessary to maximize results across initiatives.

In this, the private sector will need to be involved more closely. “The private sector has an important role to play, not only because public investments are constrained by the financial situation of many countries, but also because private companies can bring expertise and knowledge while supporting the promising African companies and ecosystems,” said Sergio Pimenta, Vice-President for Middle East and Africa of the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

On top of that, “as development organizations, we should challenge ourselves regarding our country-specific or sector-specific approaches,” emphasized Pierre Guislain, Vice-President of the African Development Bank. As technologies converge, project financing within the boundaries of today’s sector classifications may miss the opportunities of the new, digital world.

Making sense of the large spectrum of activities in the digital development field

Many meeting participants realized that they shared similar priorities. Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary of the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID), spoke for many as he stressed the urgency to tackle “basic connectivity of underserved communities, digital skills and investment in EdTech solutions, support in digital ID deployment, partnerships on digital financial services, and the promotion of digital ecosystems and entrepreneurship.”

Hiroshi Kato, Senior Vice-President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency said that, while JICA wants to support every area of the Digital Moonshot initiative, “we would like to cooperate with other partners on entrepreneurship and digital skills because these are the two key drivers for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Although investment in human capital clearly appeared as one of the common themes with the largest cooperation opportunities, there is a need to “prioritize capacity-building activities towards women and young people," suggested Reina Buijs, Director-General for International Cooperation of the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Not to forget key policy principles

The roundtable also made a contribution to the global conversation on key policy principles of the digital agenda, including data protection, open-data, inclusion and interoperability.

Particularly, “there is a critical need for a shared understanding of the importance of interoperability principles, because absence of cooperation on standards and policies could lead to regional fragmentation,” warned Marten Ross, State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance of Estonia, a country that has demonstrated great success promoting innovation and fully interoperable solutions.

“Joint-efforts are needed in order to make sure digital systems are being deployed in a safe and secure environment,” added Do-Kyu Lee, Counselor at the Korean Embassy to the United States, underlining the importance of strengthening relevant cybersecurity frameworks and capabilities.

Let’s do this

Reflecting on different ways of collaboration, sharing of information and best practices, technical support, and financing solutions, meeting participants committed to engage in a coordination effort to boost impact through better alignment of their work programs. It’s “coordination, coordination, and coordination, that will allow us to develop the digital sector and help improve productivity, create jobs, and foster entrepreneurship, all of which are essential for poverty reduction,” summarized Deborah Wetzel, the World Bank’s Regional Integration Director for the African continent.

“All the stars are aligned for Africa to take advantage of Revolution 4.0 and digitalization,” concluded AU Commissioner Abou-Zeid.

“We have made great progress through the EU-AU Digital Economy Task Force,” said Stefano Manservisi, Director General of the European Union’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO). First outcomes of this partnership are expected to be shared during the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali in May 2019, he said.

The current level of cooperation is not enough

However, better awareness about what each actor is working on, and better coordination between different work programs, will be necessary to maximize results across initiatives.

In this, the private sector will need to be involved more closely. “The private sector has an important role to play, not only because public investments are constrained by the financial situation of many countries, but also because private companies can bring expertise and knowledge while supporting the promising African companies and ecosystems,” said Sergio Pimenta, Vice-President for Middle East and Africa of the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

On top of that, “as development organizations, we should challenge ourselves regarding our country-specific or sector-specific approaches,” emphasized Pierre Guislain, Vice-President of the African Development Bank. As technologies converge, project financing within the boundaries of today’s sector classifications may miss the opportunities of the new, digital world.

Making sense of the large spectrum of activities in the digital development field

Many meeting participants realized that they shared similar priorities. Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary of the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID), spoke for many as he stressed the urgency to tackle “basic connectivity of underserved communities, digital skills and investment in EdTech solutions, support in digital ID deployment, partnerships on digital financial services, and the promotion of digital ecosystems and entrepreneurship.”

Hiroshi Kato, Senior Vice-President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency said that, while JICA wants to support every area of the Digital Moonshot initiative, “we would like to cooperate with other partners on entrepreneurship and digital skills because these are the two key drivers for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Although investment in human capital clearly appeared as one of the common themes with the largest cooperation opportunities, there is a need to “prioritize capacity-building activities towards women and young people," suggested Reina Buijs, Director-General for International Cooperation of the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Not to forget key policy principles

The roundtable also made a contribution to the global conversation on key policy principles of the digital agenda, including data protection, open-data, inclusion and interoperability.

Particularly, “there is a critical need for a shared understanding of the importance of interoperability principles, because absence of cooperation on standards and policies could lead to regional fragmentation,” warned Marten Ross, State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance of Estonia, a country that has demonstrated great success promoting innovation and fully interoperable solutions.

“Joint-efforts are needed in order to make sure digital systems are being deployed in a safe and secure environment,” added Do-Kyu Lee, Counselor at the Korean Embassy to the United States, underlining the importance of strengthening relevant cybersecurity frameworks and capabilities.

Let’s do this

Reflecting on different ways of collaboration, sharing of information and best practices, technical support, and financing solutions, meeting participants committed to engage in a coordination effort to boost impact through better alignment of their work programs. It’s “coordination, coordination, and coordination, that will allow us to develop the digital sector and help improve productivity, create jobs, and foster entrepreneurship, all of which are essential for poverty reduction,” summarized Deborah Wetzel, the World Bank’s Regional Integration Director for the African continent.

“All the stars are aligned for Africa to take advantage of Revolution 4.0 and digitalization,” concluded AU Commissioner Abou-Zeid.

“We have made great progress through the EU-AU Digital Economy Task Force,” said Stefano Manservisi, Director General of the European Union’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO). First outcomes of this partnership are expected to be shared during the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali in May 2019, he said.

The current level of cooperation is not enough

However, better awareness about what each actor is working on, and better coordination between different work programs, will be necessary to maximize results across initiatives.

In this, the private sector will need to be involved more closely. “The private sector has an important role to play, not only because public investments are constrained by the financial situation of many countries, but also because private companies can bring expertise and knowledge while supporting the promising African companies and ecosystems,” said Sergio Pimenta, Vice-President for Middle East and Africa of the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

On top of that, “as development organizations, we should challenge ourselves regarding our country-specific or sector-specific approaches,” emphasized Pierre Guislain, Vice-President of the African Development Bank. As technologies converge, project financing within the boundaries of today’s sector classifications may miss the opportunities of the new, digital world.

Making sense of the large spectrum of activities in the digital development field

Many meeting participants realized that they shared similar priorities. Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary of the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID), spoke for many as he stressed the urgency to tackle “basic connectivity of underserved communities, digital skills and investment in EdTech solutions, support in digital ID deployment, partnerships on digital financial services, and the promotion of digital ecosystems and entrepreneurship.”

Hiroshi Kato, Senior Vice-President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency said that, while JICA wants to support every area of the Digital Moonshot initiative, “we would like to cooperate with other partners on entrepreneurship and digital skills because these are the two key drivers for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Although investment in human capital clearly appeared as one of the common themes with the largest cooperation opportunities, there is a need to “prioritize capacity-building activities towards women and young people," suggested Reina Buijs, Director-General for International Cooperation of the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Not to forget key policy principles

The roundtable also made a contribution to the global conversation on key policy principles of the digital agenda, including data protection, open-data, inclusion and interoperability.

Particularly, “there is a critical need for a shared understanding of the importance of interoperability principles, because absence of cooperation on standards and policies could lead to regional fragmentation,” warned Marten Ross, State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance of Estonia, a country that has demonstrated great success promoting innovation and fully interoperable solutions.

“Joint-efforts are needed in order to make sure digital systems are being deployed in a safe and secure environment,” added Do-Kyu Lee, Counselor at the Korean Embassy to the United States, underlining the importance of strengthening relevant cybersecurity frameworks and capabilities.

Let’s do this

Reflecting on different ways of collaboration, sharing of information and best practices, technical support, and financing solutions, meeting participants committed to engage in a coordination effort to boost impact through better alignment of their work programs. It’s “coordination, coordination, and coordination, that will allow us to develop the digital sector and help improve productivity, create jobs, and foster entrepreneurship, all of which are essential for poverty reduction,” summarized Deborah Wetzel, the World Bank’s Regional Integration Director for the African continent.

“All the stars are aligned for Africa to take advantage of Revolution 4.0 and digitalization,” concluded AU Commissioner Abou-Zeid.


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