Africa can unlock its full potential

Mining is one of the sectors that has great potential in Africa.

Photo credit: File | AFP

Despite optimism, the current narrative about Africa revolves around its potential for its people and resources. With the world's largest deposits of strategic minerals and the world's largest free trade area, the region can forge a new development path in the 21st century. However, when and how this can be achieved remains to be seen.

Although many countries are aware of the obstacles that poverty, inequality, conflict, corruption, and climate change pose to prosperity and growth, their approach to moving beyond their potential fails them. The continent can make use of technology to overcome these difficulties by adopting the Asian Tigers' script. Information and communication technology (ICT) will be at the forefront of structural change in Africa as the continent uses technology to diversify its economy, boost its competitiveness, and enhance social outcomes. ICT enables innovation and productivity in various sectors and creates new opportunities for entrepreneurship, education, health, and governance.

The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) report indicates that the continent's mobile phone market is the fastest growing in the world. And in 2022, services generated 8.1 percent of GDP across sub-Saharan Africa. ICT can help address some of Africa's structural challenges, such as poor infrastructure, low human capital, and weak institutions. To harness the potential of ICT for economic and social development, Africa must invest in connectivity and ensure affordability.

Connectivity is essential for expanding access to digital services and opportunities, especially for rural and marginalised populations. Affordability is critical for reducing the digital divide and enabling more people to benefit from the ICT sector.

According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), the cost of 1GB of mobile broadband data in Africa is still the highest globally, averaging 7.12 percent of monthly income in 2019, far above the recommended threshold of two percent.

Therefore, African countries must adopt policies and regulations promoting competition, innovation, and investment in the ICT sector. And address the barriers and challenges that limit connectivity and affordability, such as inadequate infrastructure, high taxation, low digital literacy, and cyber-security risks.

Concerning the Asian Tigers playbook, no single formula or model explains the success of Asian countries, as each country has its own unique history, culture, and circumstances.

However, some common factors that played a key role in their development include political stability and effective governance, openness and integration with the global economy, human capital development and social inclusion, innovation, and technological upgrading.

The Asian countries also had visionary and pragmatic leaders who pursued sound economic policies and reforms, maintained macroeconomic stability, and fostered a culture of meritocracy and accountability. They also invested in building effective and efficient public institutions that delivered quality public services and infrastructure and ensured the rule of law and property rights.

Further, they adopted an outward-oriented and export-led growth strategy that enabled them to tap into international trade and investment opportunities and benefits. They also diversified their export markets and products in the value chain from low-skill and low-tech goods to high-skill and high-tech goods. They also attracted foreign direct investment (FDI) and technology transfer and integrated with regional and global value chains.

Additionally, the Tigers recognised the importance of investing in human capital as a critical driver of economic growth and social development. By investing in research and development (R&D), they fostered a culture of innovation and technological upgrading that enhanced their productivity and competitiveness.

They supported the development of science, technology, and innovation (STI) policies and the development of entrepreneurship and the private sector, which led to the emergence of dynamic and innovative industries and firms.

Africa can learn from them.

By investing in connectivity and ensuring affordability, Africa can unlock the full potential of ICT for achieving inclusive and sustainable growth. Leveraging digital platforms, mobile applications, and big data, the continent can leapfrog some of the traditional stages of development and achieve faster and more inclusive growth.

The Writer is Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium, Mission to the European Union, Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States and World Customs Organization. The article is written on a personal level.

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