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Economy 23 November 2017

Promoting the African Internet Economy, an opportunity that cannot be missed

Dawit Bekele
By Dawit BekeleRegional Bureau Director for Africa

Some time ago, a European who visited my country and saw all the potential it possesses asked me “why is your country poor?”. It was a compelling question that made me think for years. It is true that there are external reasons such as the acts of colonial and other powers who have done everything to block economic progress. But, I have to admit, there is at least one major internal reason: we missed many opportunities for development.

We missed the industrial revolution of the 19th century that propelled Japan and many European countries to development. We missed the development opportunity that many South East Asian countries grabbed since the 1960s. We missed many other opportunities, simply because we didn’t realize they were there or we just could not agree on how to make the best out of them.

The African Union has a very clear vision to transform the socio-economic condition of the continent by 2063; by this year, the Union will be celebrating its hundredth anniversary (see Agenda 2063). This is a great vision. But, is Africa ready to use the opportunities that exist today and can enable it to arrive to its aspirations enshrined in its Agenda 2063?

In particular, I believe that the Internet is an opportunity to achieve many of the aspirations of Agenda 2063. For example:

  • Many studies have shown that an increase in Internet penetration has a positive impact on the economy of any country. In particular, the 2016 World Development Report of the World Bank found that an increase of 10% in broadband penetration would increase GDP per capita growth from 0.9 to 1.5.
  • The Internet already brings people closer together, breaking down the tyranny of distance and making the vision of an integrated Africa more and more realistic
  • The Internet has also helped improve good governance by forcing transparency and accountability to governments around the world.
  • By allowing virtually anybody to communicate with the rest of the world, the Internet has empowered communities enabling them to grow their cultures.

But are we ready to use these opportunities or are we going to let them pass as we have unfortunately done with the other others? I am personally split between being optimistic and concerned on this issue. On the one hand, I believe that the Internet will reach the majority of Africans very soon empowering them as they have never been in the past. On the other hand, there are many major challenges that we need to tackle if we want to use the opportunities brought about by the Internet. In particular, there are new divides that are being created and that will marginalize parts of the society; there is also a risk of fragmentation of the Internet as well as an increase in cybercrime which might affect negatively the trust that people have on the Internet.

For Africans to benefit from the opportunities, they have to know what these opportunities are and ensure that they remove the hurdles that stop countries and citizens from benefiting from them. It is with this purpose that the Internet Society prepared a report on “Promoting the African Internet Economy”.

In this report, the Internet Society highlights how greater usage of the Internet, and digitization of the traditional economy, amplifies economic growth. Some of the recommendations with regards to improving access are:

  • Ensuring that broadband is available, affordable, and that there is sufficient bandwidth for new services. This requires several steps such as:
    • Liberalization of the sector to promote competition. The conditions of liberalization are important, with licenses that offer flexibility, and that are reasonably priced, having transparent conditions.
    • Affordable taxation of mobile Internet devices and services, where they are not treated as luxury goods, and balance the need to increase usage, while promoting the Internet economy.
    • Spectrum policiesthat allow for sufficient allocations so that companies can use the spectrum in an efficient and flexible manner, at affordable costs.
  • Supporting content infrastructure such as Data Centers, which can benefit from a number of factors such as access to affordable and reliable sources of power, lower import taxes, and favorable investment policies.

I encourage everyone to read this new report available at: https://www.internetsociety.org/resources/doc/2017/africa-internet-economy/

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