The Land of New Opportunity: How the Digital Economy Can Accelerate the Development of Africa


Posted on: October 20, 2016 by Sophie Chambon

Africa is growing. Already home to over a billion inhabitants, by 2050 the population is expected to have more than doubled, hitting 2.4bn. Fast-forward another 50 years and by 2100 it is predicted that a third of humanity will be African.

Hand in hand with its increasing population, big things are also expected from the continent’s economy. The IMF estimates that within only a few years the majority of fastest growing economies will be located in Africa. Technology is at the heart of this change – by 2020 there will be over one billion connected devices across the region, enabling dynamic innovation to be driven by the digitally-native youth. Indeed, according to a McKinsey report, internet contribution to the African GDP will reach $300bn by 2025.

However, the demographic issue raises several questions around agricultural industry and food supply, public health services, educational coverage, access to potable water, waste management, and electricity access or connectivity. In other words, how can citizens access basic services, in the context of weak infrastructures?

In response, Africa will have to rely on solutions which are:

  1. On a large, industrial scale
  2. Flexible to meet local requirements
  3. Considerate of sustainability issues
  4. Deployable within short deadlines
  5. Cost effective

Digital technologies meet these five criteria, and will therefore form part of the cornerstone of African cities and territories in the future.

The potential market is huge. This is confirmed by the emergence of an African middle class and the creation of services accessible to the poorest citizens – in Kenya, South Africa or Nigeria.

The digital economy is fast becoming a staple of life on the continent: according to a study carried out by the American economic review Forbes, Africans have approximately the same access to electricity as they do to mobile phones.

However, although the situation offers a number of exciting opportunities, it is not without its challenges. Everything from high urban concentrations and a lack of the requisite infrastructure needed to support development momentum through to high unemployment rates, issues raised by water and electricity access and the rising expectations of citizens all need to be solved before a true digital revolution can take hold.

Traceability and intelligent resource management will likely form part of the landscape of the cities of tomorrow. This will certainly pass through the circular economy and smart grids; and e-education and connected health are likely to be a response to the vastness of the territory. In addition, the deployment of security technologies and the digital identification of citizens to deliver services will form part of the solutions to consider. Digital technologies like IOT, cognitive computing, big data and cloud will increasingly be part of the African landscape in the coming decades. But a smart Africa probably means something different to what we are used to hearing about up until now.

For five days, from Wednesday 19th to Sunday 23rd October we will be hosting the Land of African Business – a conference that will explore the digital momentum that is propelling Africa’s growth as an economic power. Here are two of the most interesting discussion set to take place:

21st October @ 9:45-11:00: Smart Cities or Smart Nations? The path towards the emergence of an African model

Africa is undergoing tremendous changes on demographic, social, economic and digital levels. The African continent is one of the most dynamic of the 21st century notably through an increasingly connected youth. By 2050, its predicted that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities – many with over 30 million of inhabitants and, worryingly, the numbers of slums are likely to be counted in hundreds.

Urban densification requires satisfying a massive demand for basic services (electricity, water, health, education, transportation, housing). The higher the population, the more intense the competition is to exploit the resources and to find employment. And the risk is also higher for Africa to see the gap deepen between a connected and rich Africa on the one hand and a poor and landlocked Africa on the other.

Does the notion of ‘smart cities’ make sense on the continent? Should we not be talking of ‘smart nations’? Does the future of Africa necessarily require digital intelligence to facilitate citizen access to basic services? How should we balance participative citizenship, digital technology and sustainable development in Africa?

21st October @ 11:15-12:30: Digital Trust, the Condition of a Sustainable Growth in Africa

Trust is one of the pillars of a digital society. However, the extraordinary development dynamic driven by this economy has its downsides: cybercrime.

Africa is not an exception to the rule. The lack of internet security could cause economic losses exceeding ?€2,000bn by 2020 if companies and governments do not react quickly.

But how should the digital space be structured and regulated? And how can a climate of trust and confidence be established? Does an ideal roadmap to create a trusted environment in the African countries exist?

Head back to Ascent later in the month find out how these discussions progressed, what options were explored and what potential solutions were proposed.

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About Sophie Chambon

Head of Global Sustainability and member of the Scientific Community
Sophie Chambon-Diallo is Global Head of Sustainability and Special Advisor for Africa within Atos. In charge of promoting the digital portfolio of sustainability offerings, she is also responsible for building an ecosystem with innovative partners and leading academics. Sophie reports to the Atos General Secretary. Before joining Atos Corporate Responsibility Program, she was Senior Manager Consultant in Customer Relationship Management. She was previously Director of Marketing Operations in an international telemarketing company. Sophie holds a Postgraduate degrees after the Master in Economic Sciences from Panthéon Sorbonne (DEA ès Sciences Economiques).

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