President Paul Kagame says digital technologies will play a key role in stimulating development and transformation on the African continent but challenges that limit access must be addressed first.
The Head of State made the call on Monday at the opening of the GSMA Mobile World Congress Africa 2022, the first in-person of its kind held on the African continent, bringing together over 2,000 participants from across the globe.
“Digital technologies are a catalytic force for development in Africa. Yet, almost half of adults in low- and middle-income countries do not have access to the internet, even when living in areas with broadband coverage,”
“Digital infrastructure is key, but it is not enough. To leverage the potential of connectivity, investments in digital skills and literacy must be integrated in our national policies,” President Kagame said.
He cited Rwanda as an example, pointing out that with the support of the private sector, the country established the Kigali Innovation City which aims at developing a competitive and productive workforce and offer a conducive environment for start-ups.
President Kagame said that the continent has millions of young people whose lives are driven by technology and must be taken advantage of to drive continental development.
“Africa is home to creative and tech-savvy youth, looking for the right platform to contribute solutions. We cannot afford to reduce them to a statistic, only, or sit idly by, as they seek opportunity outside of Africa,”
“Our young people have a lot to offer. We must do our part, and keep our promise to them,” he said.
He reiterated that significant strides have been made on the continent to accelerate the digital transformation, through initiatives spearheaded by the African Union and Smart Africa, among others, but added that to leave no one behind, the continent must create a more enabling legal and regulatory environment.
“However, to leave no one behind means a number of things as well, and we must recognize that digital transformation is not a zero-sum game, where progress must come at the expense of the most vulnerable. Not at all,”
“Everyone, regardless of status, gender, or nationality, must benefit, if we want to create lasting change,” President Kagame said, making a rallying call.
President Kagame, who has over the years been credited for spearheading Rwanda’s technological ambitions, said that universal and meaningful connectivity for all can be a springboard for the full implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
“This is less about leapfrogging legacy systems, and more about digitizing faster and taking full ownership in building the Africa we want, because we can, all of us together,”
“Everywhere in the world, emerging technologies are shaping our economic future, as well as the conditions for peace and security,” he observed, adding that to speed up prosperity, technology has to go hand and hand with good governance.
On the opening day of the congress, discussions centred around the theme “Building a Digital Future, Together”, focusing on how mobile connectivity, a major engine of growth, is bringing endless potential by accelerating digital transformation for all business sectors in Africa, from healthcare and education to manufacturing and financial services.
GSMA MWC Africa brings together industry sectors, business leaders and policymakers with the region’s mobile ecosystem to discuss the continent’s ambition to enhance the power of connectivity.
The event also marks the release of the Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2022 report which finds that closing the mobile internet usage gap is crucial to realising the potential of mobile connectivity, with 5G-related activities beginning to pick up across the region.
The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2022 report finds that closing the usage gap is crucial to realise the potential of mobile connectivity, while 5G activities gather momentum.
Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA, said that hosting the congress on the continent couldn’t have been timelier, given the momentum Africa has shown in the uptake of mobile technologies.
“Africa stands at a unique moment in time. Over the past two decades, mobile growth across Sub-Saharan Africa has been phenomenal. Today, 46% of the population is connected and subscribed to mobile services, rising to 50% by 2025,”
“In 2021, mobile technologies and services generated around 8% of GDP across Sub-Saharan Africa, supporting 3.2 million jobs across the region. Imagine what Africa will be when everyone is connected,” said Granryd.
“To continue the momentum and create more jobs and foster inclusion and reduce inequality, we have to ensure that everyone has access to connectivity and can benefit from all it offers,” he added.
This was reiterated by Angela Wamola, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa, GSMA, who said that mobile technologies have been at the forefront of driving Africa’s socio-economic transformation in an inclusive way and continues to grow.
“We anticipate welcoming attendees from nearly 90 countries across Africa and around the world who will gather this week to convene and hear from over 60 speakers, 45% of whom are female,” Wamola said.
“Mobile connectivity and connected technologies are enablers, supporting countries as they build forward better in pursuit of economic recovery and resilience,” she said, adding that the meeting will examine the urgency to bridge the digital divide for building inclusive, sustainable societies across Africa.
The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan 2022 report released on Monday calls for the need to address the main barriers to mobile internet adoption, including affordability and digital skills, to realise the potential of mobile connectivity to drive economic growth and development.
Its findings reveal how mobile connectivity is helping the region’s post-pandemic economic recovery by creating the digital technologies and services needed to build back economies that are more productive and efficient.
The report indicates that 40% of the adult population is now connected to mobile internet services. However, the usage gap remains a challenge: 44% live in areas covered by mobile broadband networks, but do not yet use mobile internet services.
It adds that in 2021, the mobile ecosystem supported more than 3.2 million jobs (directly and indirectly) and made a substantial contribution to the funding of the public sector, with $16 billion raised through taxes on the sector.
According to the report, by 2025, mobile’s contribution to the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa will grow by $65 billion (to almost $155 billion), as the countries in the region increasingly benefit from increased take-up of mobile services.
It adds that by 2025, 4G will account for a third of mobile connections in the region, compared to under a fifth of connections in 2021.
The advent of 5G
A report dubbed by GSMA dubbed “5G Africa: realising the potential published by indicates that the African continent is realising the potential of 5G, with uptake expected to go up over the next few years.
5G-related activities have begun to pick up across Africa, including spectrum auctions, pilots and commercial trials, as well as efforts to develop locally relevant 5G use cases.
The report reveals that 5G will contribute $26 billion to Africa’s economy by 2030, with retail, manufacturing, and agriculture among the sectors that will see the most impact.
Additionally, GSMA states that 5G will account for 20% of mobile connections in Africa by 2030. Today there are commercial 5G networks in more than 10 countries and many more countries are expected to launch commercial 5G by 2025.
State of Instant and Inclusive Payments
On the sidelines of the MWC Africa, AfricaNenda, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UN ECA) and the World Bank released the State of Instant and Inclusive Payment Systems in Africa report (SIIPS – Africa).
The report, which builds on extensive consultations with industry leaders and experts in digital financial services as well as MSMEs and consumers across the continent, provides a detailed landscape of Instant Payment Systems (IPS) in Africa.
The SIIPS – Africa report 2022 shows that IPS are growing rapidly, with 29 systems having gone live on the continent in the past decade.
Despite all the increasing interest in these IPS, only a few are showing signs of potential to reach a state of mature inclusivity due to regulatory challenges, lack of data transparency and high costs for both payment system providers and end-users.
The CEO of AfricaNenda, Robert Ochola said that the challenges identified in the report call for a collaborative effort between public and private stakeholders to ensure open access to shared payment infrastructure, healthy competition and access to a range of services that meet consumers’ needs.