Though 4G technology was almost non-existent in Africa in the past, Africa has nonetheless made a “great technological leap forward” and succeeded in the digital leap. With an average annual growth rate of 7%, Africa will exceed one billion mobile phone users in 2021, which is tomorrow. Following a World Bank report, more households on the continent now own a mobile phone than have access to electricity or drinking water. The number of subscribers to digital platforms (movies on demand, music, etc.), estimated at 680 million at the end of 2018, is expected to grow at the same rate as annual e-commerce revenues, which are expected to rise to 75 billion dollars in 2025, i.e. ten times higher than in 2014.
Africa is also the world champion in mobile payments, thanks in particular to M-Pesa, Orange Money and MTN mobile Money. All statistics indicate that the digital revolution is resolutely underway on the continent. Driven by mobile telephony and its multiple functionalities, this revolution is literally radiating to all African countries, and is helping to improve their performance in all areas: education, training, health, agriculture, transport, tourism, economy, finance, commerce, industry, science and technology, governance, services, etc. By creating a new economic ecosystem, it also contributes to the economic diversification and growth of the continent, as well as to its inclusion at all levels: financial, economic, social, political, scientific, cultural, etc. But the digital appetence of Africans is far from being reduced to the consumption of digital products from elsewhere. In addition to the creation and innovation of applications, mobile uses, high-performance local platforms, particularly in the music and video streaming market, Africa also illustrates itself in the creation of digital social networks (Ushahidi, Ginger, Mixt, Eskimi, or Yookos, etc.).
In the African market, these “made in Africa” networks compete the world leader Facebook, which has more than 126 million subscribers in Africa both in terms of quality and number of subscribers. They have thus become powerful levers of communication from and within Africa itself and the world. Because of these levers Africa draws the specific contours of its incomparable digital adventure. With the help of these alternative platforms, Africa portraits itself as dynamic, innovative, creative, which contributes, both in substance and form, to a real “Rebranding” of the continent. Thus, the rise of these local digital champions gives hope for the future emergence of true African digital unicorns of global stature.
However, despite these promising prospects, Africa is the continent that is least connected in the world, with only 32% penetration (21 of the 25 least connected countries are African), and very large disparities in connection from one region to another and even within countries. Bridging this digital divide is a major challenge that requires major investments (only 1% of the $500 billion invested by development banks has been devoted to NICTs in recent years) and actions at all levels, national, regional and continental.
- The improvement and harmonisation of the policy and regulatory framework;
- The attractiveness of the economic and socio-cultural environment;
- An intelligent digital taxation;
- Innovative and accessible financing;
- The creation of a single digital market and network, synergies and partnerships at all possible levels for greater efficiency;
- The digitisation of existing infrastructures;
- Available quality and quantity human resources that is adequately remunerated;
- The promotion of local digital champions;
- The popularisation of digital culture in order to overcome computer illiteracy;
- Rational and concerted investment in all sectors of the digital economy, in research and innovation;
- Artificial intelligence, computer security, infrastructure, including electricity (the basis), transport, energy, fibre optics, satellites;
- Infrastructure sharing between operators for an intelligent and comprehensive coverage of the continent and universal (democratic) access to the Internet;
- The development of broadband networks to improve high-speed connectivity, incubators in all domains;
- National Internet exchange points etc since 70% of intra-African trade still goes abroad and costs the continent 400 to 600 million euros annually, resulting in additional costs for the consumer.
These are all challenges which, paradoxically, indicate the scale and diversity of investment opportunities in the digital sector in Africa.
With a population that will double by 2050 to reach four billion by 2100, Africa is an immeasurable reservoir of growth that, if this be the case, is scary when it comes to the prospects for gains in the various branches of the digital economy. Its youth (40% of its population is less than 15 years old, and 60% less than 30 years old), is dynamic and adept at NICTs, is at the origin of frugal innovations (ingenious, efficient and low-cost) that are beginning to conquer the world. These innovations create their own dynamics and generate cascading opportunities. Genuine educational hubs are emerging to further stimulate this creativity and make the continent the cradle of the next wave of digital innovations. Africa’s e-learning market will be worth US$1.4 billion by 2022, with the challenge of having the skills to make the most of the entire value chain of the digital economy.
Africa is now the second largest market in the world in terms of demand for NICTs, as evidenced by the activism of major digital firms (Microsoft, Google, Huawei and Orange) on the continent. The turnover of some of them, the GAFAMs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft), in Africa has soared in the recent years (326 billion dollars), even though the digital revolution is still in its infancy on the continent. A revolution full of infinite promises that will be realised through strong, concerted and innovative actions. How do we get there? This is the challenge of the seventh edition of the Rebranding Africa Forum, which will bring together, October 29 and 30, 2021 in Brussels, firms and key economic, financial and scientific stakeholders operating or likely to operate in the digital sector, investors, policy makers, civil society stakeholders, and any other willing or able to accompany the digital revolution underway on the continent.
The theme selected for this 7th edition: Theme: How the digital revolution can shape Africa’s future