African countries have been urged to invest in building sustainable internet infrastructure to harness digital opportunities and accelerate social and economic transformation on the continent.
Global leaders attending the 17th Internet Governance Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia highlighted the importance of digital technologies as a tool to boost development in Africa.
“The contribution of the Internet to social development is enormous, the democratization of knowledge and communication, access to entrepreneurial skills and new employment opportunities are some of the opportunities to access health services and education,” – Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Mr. Abiy Ahmed, on Sustainable Internet for a Shared and Common Future said in his opening speech at the IGF 2022 held under
However, Prime Minister Ahmed said that there was a need for cautious optimism on ownership of critical digital infrastructure, data management and cyber security, as data management was about aligning the roles of the digital ecosystem to drive economic development while protecting individual rights.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told participants that while digital technologies are transforming lives and livelihoods, they are also breaking the rules and exacerbating inequalities around the world. It called for a human-centered digital future based on a sustainable internet that is open, inclusive and secure for all, in line with its proposed Global Digital Compact. The proposed Global Digital Compact aims to ensure universal connectivity, bridge the digital divide and reach the millions of people who are not connected to the internet.
“A safe, secure human-centered digital space starts with protecting free speech, freedom of expression, and the right to online autonomy and privacy,” Mr. Guterres said, stressing the responsibility of governments, private companies and social media platforms. prevent online violence and misinformation that undermines democracy, human rights and science.
“We must work for a safe, fair and open digital future that does not compromise privacy or dignity,” urged Mr. Guterres.
Antonio Pedro, Acting Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said bridging the digital divide is essential for rapid economic growth, innovation, job creation and building new pathways for access to services in Africa.
“It is very important to harmonize rules to remove barriers to connectivity both within African nations and across the continent,” said Mr. Pedro, explaining that harmonized rules would facilitate the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). AfCFTA is key to Africa’s food and energy security and enhances competitiveness through economies of scale and improved market access.
Statistics show that about 871 million people in Africa are not connected to the internet, and access is limited even in rural areas. Mr. Pedro noted that while 70% of Africa’s population technically has access to mobile internet, less than 25% use the internet due to the high cost of mobile internet in the region.
“Lack of digital and literacy skills is another key barrier to achieving digital inclusion,” said Mr. Pedro, adding that “These skills gaps have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen the expansion of online education, e-health, e-commerce and remote work. left behind a large part of the population that does not have access to the Internet.”
According to him, the need for meaningful digital connectivity to enhance sustainable development, especially for Least Developing Countries, has never been more pressing. Nevertheless, Africa has made some progress in promoting digital access. For example, Agrocenta, a business-to-business e-commerce platform in Ghana, connects 10,000 farmers with buyers, enabling farmers to secure higher prices for their produce. While in Guinea, startup Clinic-O is providing digital healthcare to rural Guinea and coding lessons for Kenyan school children.
“Now is the time to redouble our efforts to bridge the digital infrastructure gap and use digital technologies to power key initiatives to achieve a greener and more inclusive digital world and equitable and sustainable development for all,” he said. Mr. Pedro noted that a multi-sectoral approach is key to realizing a sustainable and unfragmented internet in Africa.
“The application of digital technologies must gradually and sustainably reflect the basic principles of inclusion, representation and accessibility… The participation of the private sector to stimulate digital development, especially infrastructure development, will leapfrog socio-economic development,” Mr. Pedro stressed.
Addressing the participants, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Mr. Li Junhua said that the Internet is a springboard to save the Sustainable Development Goals through digital empowerment.
“Digital technologies and the Internet serve as engines of growth and providers of essential services, including supporting e-government and developing economies,” added Mr. Junhua:
“The digital frontier is truly an important space to realize the power of transformation and to accelerate projects towards the SDGs.”
Distributed by the APO Group on behalf of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
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