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BRIEFApril 7, 2022

Using Partnerships and Data Responsibility to Boost Digital Technology in Africa

A Q&A with Toshiyuki Nakamura of the Japan International Cooperation Agency

Toshiyuki Nakamura, Senior Vice President for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)

World Bank

A Q&A with Toshiyuki Nakamura of the Japan International Cooperation Agency

Toshiyuki Nakamura is a Senior Vice President for the Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA, where his focus includes Africa, governance and peacebuilding, disaster relief and project evaluation. He has worked for JICA since 1989 and has served in leadership roles in JICA’s offices in the United States and South Africa. He has also been JICA’s Director General of Industrial Development and Public Policy Development, and Director General of Governance and Peacebuilding Development.

Why is the digital agenda in Africa important?

The evolution of digital technologies and the expansion of internet connectivity has dramatically increased the volume of data being created and shared. This has created new opportunities-- science and technology have brought innovations that give Africa the potential to "fast forward" technology into a new, digital future. New technology has led to initiatives that make sure no one is left behind, scaling up of good practices, and new and better products.

At the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, or TICAD, in Tunisia in August, JICA will join representatives from African countries and the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, and the African Union Commission to discuss ways to help build a resilient, inclusive, and prosperous Africa.  The pandemic is challenging, and now it is time to work on accelerating development to help overcome its economic setbacks and promote progress built on new technologies.

Africa is fertile ground for these new technologies. Its internet economy is expected to grow to $180 billion by 2025 and $712 billion by 2050, with 10% improvement in connectivity, which will boost GDP by 2.5%. At JICA, we know that digital technology’s role in Africa's development is becoming ever more important.

As countries look to bounce back from the pandemic, what are some of the biggest challenges-- and opportunities-- they’re facing in the digital space?

The pandemic has impacted businesses, communities, and vital social services. Digitalization is more important than ever; it is a key to reviving economies in developing countries. The pandemic deepened countries’ awareness of the value of using data to communicate about public health issues and to advise people about government decisions. That’s why JICA is supporting Africa’s startup ecosystem with “Project NINJA (Next Innovation with Japan),” which promotes entrepreneurship, innovation, and new businesses in emerging countries.  Growing private companies is vital to future development in Africa, and it is also important to support those who can’t benefit from digital services.

We also believe that how you treat data is fundamental. It is important to avoid the misuse of data, to support ‘open’ data, and use data widely and in a responsible manner. JICA will cooperate with bilateral and multilateral organizations with similar values.

Why is your partnership with the World Bank’s Digital Economy Initiative for Africa important?

To unlock the potential power of the global digital economy, we need to collaborate with more partners and mobilize more funds. Digital technology and data will require profound changes in many areas, including institutional development, regulations, infrastructure, services, literacy, human resources, and security. To prepare for these changes, we plan to co-host a side event at TICAD this August on boosting digital transformation in Africa, looking at data as a development enabler. We’re hosting this with the World Bank Group, and we hope to further deepen our collaboration. The World Development Report 2021 provides comprehensive analysis and recommendations on the use of data, and JICA is also looking intensely at data’s important role.

What are some of your priority areas and how has your collaboration with DE4A helped meet your goals?

JICA has restructured its global agenda, which supports policies in 20 areas, in such varied issues as health, education, agriculture, and nutrition.  We have built in policies to promote innovation and incorporate digital technology across all 20 of our focus areas. JICA also plans to support ICT private sector development and data use, including infrastructure services, in Africa. Cybersecurity is also important for our agenda. We are currently focused on Asia but have plans to expand to other regions in the near future.