Digitalization is one of the greatest transformative opportunities of our time. Yet too few people can truly access its benefits. Despite improvements, in 2022, only 36 percent of Africa's population had broadband internet access. Though mobile internet availability has increased in the continent, broadband infrastructure reach and the quality of available services still lag other regions. Furthermore, Africa has one of the widest digital gender gaps worldwide, with the greatest disparity between men and women using the internet (35 percent versus 24 percent in 2020, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)). Divides in the availability of high-quality digital services persist in all countries, particularly in remote and poorer subregions. This is compounded by Africa’s large usage gap due to several factors, including major affordability constraints, the limited availability of locally relevant content and inadequate digital literacy and skills. To close the gap, significant investment is required to lay strong foundations for the digital economy and robust reforms to develop enabling policy and regulatory frameworks that encourage investment and effective competition. Broadband affordability also remains a challenge in the region, as average prices generally exceed the international target of 1GB for no more than 2 percent of the monthly GNI per capita.
In 2019, the World Bank Group launched the Digital Economy for Africa (DE4A) initiative aiming to ensure every individual, business, and government in Africa is digitally enabled by 2030, in support of the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy 2020-2030. The initiative supports a comprehensive approach to developing a vibrant, safe and inclusive digital economy in Africa, combining the development of infrastructure for connectivity, building digital platforms for access to finance and markets, creating new markets for entrepreneurs, and skills while also building regulatory frameworks that address emerging risks, such as competition, privacy, and security. By taking a cross-sectoral approach to building digital foundations, the initiative aims to optimize the use, synergy, and sequencing of World Bank Group instruments, expertise, and institutions to support the development of a sustainable digital economy in Africa and boost the availability of high-impact use-cases. The initiative is supported by World Bank investment projects, policy reforms and knowledge products. The results were achieved by implementing a robust analytic framework developed under the initiative, encompassing 37 completed DE4A Country Diagnostics and 3 ongoing, as of May 31st, 2023 (see Figure1). These diagnostics provide a solid analytical foundation for national decision-making by presenting a snapshot of the digital economy in these countries and putting forward actionable recommendations. DE4A Country Diagnostics have provided a basis for strategic investments and policy reforms that contribute to advancing key IDA policy commitments on technology development. The World Bank has supported regulatory reforms and enhancement in several African countries to promote competition, private investment, and equitable access to connectivity. These reforms were often paired with support to fill funding gaps or provide catalytic funding for important public investments in the digital economy.
Figure 1. DE4A Country Diagnostics status as of May 31, 2023