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Mobile connectivity key in driving Africa’s digital economy shift

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Mobile connectivity is key in driving Africa’s digital economy shift. PHOTO | POOL

Africa is at the edge of another kind of technology frontier.

From technology startups innovating for some of the continent’s dire infrastructure challenges to a constantly growing community of hubs and enabling programmes, there is enough indication that the digital economy has taken off.

But to what extent are we prepared to bridge the digital divide for building inclusive, sustainable societies across Africa?

At the recent GSMA Mobile World Congress (MWC) Africa 2022, in Kigali, Rwanda, I had the privilege of interacting and sharing insights with industry sector experts, business leaders and policymakers on the continent’s ambition to enhance the power of connectivity.

The event also marked the release of the Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2022 report which found that closing the mobile internet usage gap is crucial to realising the potential of mobile connectivity.

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It calls for stakeholders 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.

Admittedly, Africa’s digital transformation is underway, generating transformational changes across all economic sectors and providing social upsides.

On several market growth parameters for the mobile ecosystem, Africa has recorded the highest growth rates globally.

However, according to the report, although 40 per cent of the adult population is connected to mobile internet services, the usage gap remains a challenge: 44 per cent live in areas covered by mobile broadband networks, but do not use mobile internet services.

Addressing the main barriers to mobile internet adoption for these people should be a priority for stakeholders in order to realise the potential of mobile connectivity to drive economic growth and development.

Mobile connectivity continues to bring endless potential by accelerating digital transformation for all business sectors in Africa, from healthcare and education to manufacturing and financial services.

In 2021, the mobile ecosystem supported over 3.2 million jobs (directly and indirectly), with $16 billion being raised through taxes.

Today, we are witnesses to how mobile connectivity is helping Africa’s post-pandemic economic recovery by creating digital technologies and services needed to build back economies that are more productive and efficient.

To keep 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.

Here in Kenya, we have committed as Safaricom to provide resilient internet connections that maintain acceptable levels of service.

In the full realisation that mobile connectivity and connected technologies are enablers, supporting our country as it builds forward better in pursuit of economic recovery, we have spearheaded initiatives that support our quest for a connected Kenya.

Indeed, our network is part of the critical infrastructure that allows for inclusive and sustainable economic development and innovation.

Today, our 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G networks in aggregate cover over 99 per cent of Kenya’s population, while our fibre network has connected more than 200,000 homes to fast and reliable internet.

We also aim to expand fibre optic coverage to 80 per cent of the population.

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But we realised the high cost of smartphones is a barrier, hence our Lipa Mdogo Mdogo initiative to help customers acquire a smartphone.

Our goal is to establish universal coverage so that it is possible to enjoy excellent internet anywhere in the country.

Fast internet opens fresh opportunities for businesses by helping them access online marketplaces, reach new customers and implement innovative operating models to grow revenues.

This will help businesses reap the digital dividend, grow sustainably and be part of disruptions sweeping across many industries and sectors.

All these efforts go to show that we stand at a unique moment in time and the future looks bright if we can increase the number of connected people.

In fact, the Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2022 report predicts that by 2025, mobile’s contribution to the Sub-Saharan Africa GDP will grow by $65 billion (to almost $155 billion), as the countries increasingly benefit from increased take-up of mobile services

Further, with 5G-related activities beginning to pick up across Africa, including spectrum auctions, pilots and commercial trials, as well as efforts to develop locally relevant 5G use cases, Africa is set to realise its potential in the digital economy.

GSMA’s new report dubbed, “5G Africa: realising the potential,” reveals that 5G will contribute $26 billion to Africa’s economy by 2030. Retail, manufacturing, and agriculture are among the sectors that will see the most impact. Additionally, 5G will account for 20% of mobile connections in Africa by 2030.

As countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world will acknowledge, mobile connectivity is set to play a crucial role in building economies that are more resilient to future shocks, enhance productivity and efficiency in service delivery, and ensure more inclusive socio-economic development.

The writer is the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, at Safaricom.