UNECA - United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

12/07/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/07/2019 03:36

Tough road towards Africa’s Information Society despite progress

Yaounde, 07 December 2019 (ECA) - Despite the progress made in fulfilling her promises for developing ICTs and an enabling ecosystem for an all-englobing digital economy, through a jump from basic voice/text services to broadband solutions and worthwhile achievements in financial inclusion, Africa still lags behind the rest of the world as per the rate of implementation of the 15 action lines of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the key global movement for interconnectedness towards development, which started in 2005.

This overall assessment comes out of the 2019 Annual Africa Regional Review of WSIS Implementation which has just ended in Yaounde under the coordination of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

Deliberations were held under the theme: 'Information and Communication Technologies for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals' in order to generate cardinal discussion points from Africa at the 2020 WSIS forum to be held in Geneva next April.

'The main challenges for Africa lie in the areas of developing e-commerce, infrastructure for reaching the last mile [the most remote areas and communities] toward universal access to the information superhighway, huge costs for connectivity, inadequate service quality and cybercrime' noted Mactar Seck, ECA's focal point on the Information Society, working in the Green Economy and Technology Section within the Technology, Climate Change and Natural resources Division (TCND) of ECA.

Mr. Seck therefore presented the African Union's (AU's) Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS) developed by the AU Commission (AUC) and ECA in collaboration with other partners to enable African countries to fully benefit from the 4th industrial revolution, facilitate the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and, ultimately, nudge the continent to economic and structural transformation.

He challenged policy makers, ICT experts, representatives of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), as well as representatives of regional and international organizations, telecommunications operators, the private sector, members of civil society, academics, researchers and media practitioners present, to constitute a massive front for implementing Africa's Digital Transformation Strategy. The strategy has four main pillars: political and regulatory environment, infrastructure development, capacity development and innovation and research.

He noted that 21 of the world's 25 least connected countries are in Africa - a reminder of the urgency to implement the said strategy.

Against this backdrop, Cameroon's Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Minette Libom Li Likeng said 'it is imperative that countries work to reduce the digital divide and accelerate the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) by using ICTs to harness the resources of this technological revolution for human development.'

'This is about bridging the digital gap, certainly, but especially about reducing economic and social divides around the world.'

She said this was the main reason while the Government of Cameroon, under the directives of President Paul Biya, is highly engaged in the implementation of the country's digital transition plan (a project supported by ECA), which she described as challenging. It comprises action lines on infrastructure development (including sub-marine cable, urban fiber optic, and internet hotspots); improvement in service quality; regulation; the promotion of access to and use of ICTs among all social strata with particular focus on women and youths; capacity development in digital skills across the public sector; and support to startups.

Ms. Libom Li Likeng presented the gratitude of the Government of Cameroon to ECA, which she said is providing remarkable support to her country's digital transition strategy through the leadership of Executive Secretary - Ms. Vera Songwe.

'If Africa misses the fourth industrial revolution characterized by a growing digital economy which will constitute 25% of global GDP by 2025, driven by big data and artificial intelligence, things will get very complicated for the continent' posited Giuseppe D'Aronco, Economist at ECA's Subregional Office for Central Africa. He called for a new consciousness towards this dispensation where investments in developing algorithms and mathematics are quintessential.

Ms. Nnenna Nwakanma, an Information Society activist from Web Foundation who has been involved in all WSIS processes dating back to the early 2000's, questioned what governments and the private sector in Africa have done to be key players after 50 years of the existence of the internet and 30 years of the world-wide web (www). 'We in Africa are prone to consuming content of the Information society but we must also produce and be masters of our own content,' she said argued.

WSIS Action Lines in which Africa has made the most progress include: Line 1 on The Role of Governments and all Stakeholders in the Promotion of ICTs for Development (where 44 countries are noted to have developed national e-strategies); Action Line 3 on Access to Information and Knowledge (wherein 37% of African countries provide government information online); Action Line 5 on Building Confidence and Security in the use of ICTs (wherein 70% of African countries have developed cybersecurity legislation, 69% have drawn-up criminal legislation, and 30 % are providing capacity building in cyber security issues); and Action Line 11 on International and Regional Cooperation (where Africa is recording several initiatives ranging from the African Internet Governance Forum to the AU's African Internet Exchange System Project to promote keeping intra-African Internet traffic and bodies such as Smart Africa).

The Yaounde WSIS review meeting recommended that African governments and all other stakeholders recognize existing and emerging forms of the digital divide and address them holistically, lay emphasis on rapidly improving infrastructure and service provision in telecommunications but especially in terms of internet broadband, fine-tuning regulation on cyber security, privacy and data protection; and actively promoting digital skills and digital literacy. Governments were particularly called upon to hearken to the propositions of the private sector and civil society - which serve as repositories of knowledge and experience in the development of ICTS.

On behalf of the Director of the Subregional Office for Central Africa, the Head of the Office's Subregional Initiatives - Adama Coulibaly thanked the stakeholders from all over Africa for their engagement in pushing for progress on the continent's commitments within WSIS and the exemplary role played by Cameroon to facilitate exchanges on the road to the Geneva forum code-named WSIS+15.

Meanwhile, Minister Libom Li Likeng reminded participants that ICTS are real catalysts and accelerators of the SDGs in Africa and that they should throw their weight behind the recommendations of the Yaounde WSIS review which, she said, has made propositions to squarely address the challenges of the Information Society in Africa.

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