Digital and economic growth, the African perspective
With digital technology, we are experiencing a new revolution that concerns the whole planet and without a doubt, the world is moving from an industrial economy to an intangible economy and no country is immune to this phenomenon. Today, it is essential to have an adequate computer park and a good telecommunications system to ensure inclusive and sustainable growth, in an interconnected world and the COVID-19 crisis confirms this.
Digital has become a major issue from East to West, from North to South. Any business or territory that does not arm itself with a reliable digital system risks self-exclusion from global activity. Indeed, an absence of participation in the digital revolution through information technologies and particularly the Internet, can generate marginalization on all levels, because these technologies represent both a growing sector with a very high added value and a fundamental element for competitiveness.
According to the latest estimates from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the internet is used by more than half of the world’s population. In terms of proportionality in its progress, the African continent is advancing by leaps and bounds. In fact, in our continent, the percentage of users rose from 2.1% in 2006 to more than 30% in 2019 and the most important objective at present for most of the countries of Africa is to accelerate the broadband connectivity to keep pace with this booming digital economy. The scope of mobile phone penetration and the dynamics of online commerce fostered by African demographics is revolutionizing commerce and according to McKinsey & Compagny, the annual revenues generated by e-commerce could exceed 75 billion dollars. USD in 2025. The birth of start-ups and the development of applications adapted to the realities of continental economies are other indicators of this timid African digital revolution.
IN OUR CONTINENT, THE PERCENTAGE OF USERS HAS RISED FROM 2.1% IN 2006 TO OVER 30% IN 2019 AND THE MOST IMPORTANT OBJECTIVE CURRENTLY FOR MOST AFRICAN COUNTRIES IS TO ACCELERATE THE HIGH-SPEED CONNECTIVITY TO BE AT A GLANCE IN THIS GROWING DIGITAL ECONOMY.
However, this remarkable performance should not obscure very disparate situations where in certain geographic areas, internet penetration rates are relatively low and can vary between 20% and over 60% depending on the country. In addition, the continent suffers from poor broadband connectivity, with less than 30% of the population having access to it, compared to 80% in the United States. Digital technologies have introduced “a genetic mutation” said the famous Director of MIT’s Medialab, Nicholas Négroponte. He was absolutely right and his prediction comes true these days with the many uses that can be made from the mobile phone. It is an object that is used to make calls of course, but thanks to the improvement of its functionalities, of its design, to the development of its network capacities, it becomes a kind of Swiss army knife that allows the sending of texts, images, data and sound and thus promotes the growth and development of multiple new services. If digital technology has progressed in the economies of the North in particular thanks to the Internet since 1994, in the wake of computers and IT, in the countries of the South, the relatively cheaper mobile phone, has established itself as a gateway entry into the digital world. It has met with particular success with all categories of the population, in particular with young people. In most African countries, the cell phone has become a fad that can be found in the most remote villages. Even street beggars have cell phones and buying a phone card to communicate is one of their daily priorities.
The rise to an unprecedented level of interconnection of African populations makes digital technology an obvious accelerator of development. The smartphone has become, in a few years, the first means of disseminating information, far ahead of the press, the number of subscribers ahead of Internet users. Chinese businessman Jack MA, who is the global e-commerce giant with Alibaba with sales of over $ 100 billion, believes the internet has the power to transform Africa and COVID 19 has just confirmed this if we analyze the multiple advantages offered by this instrument.
Indeed, technology and innovation are central elements in unlocking the vast potential for inclusive growth that can foster the emergence of the continent. The digital tool is truly an accelerator of inclusive growth and development for several reasons. I am referring to what Lionel Zinzou called during our conference in March 2020 at the OECD “the advantages of backwardness”. He wanted to explain through this expression that the delay in production structures for structural transformation is not an obstacle to the diversification of activities provided that communication facilities are used to meet certain priorities such as agriculture, fishing. , food shops, transport, postal and financial services, education and health among others.
Also, digital technology helps to mobilize the potential of African diasporas in a logic of transfer of professional experiences in several qualifications. Initiatives of all kinds are multiplying on the African continent thanks to the IT tool and this phenomenon is accentuated with the COVID 19 crisis which has made it possible to point out several obstacles that must absolutely be overcome to make the best use of certain potentialities of our continent. These obstacles particularly concern the cost of access to electricity and governance methods unsuited to development imperatives.
The effects of digital technology are multiple in that they have an impact on learning methods, on the productivity and competitiveness of companies. They modify relationships with the world by offering access to information and knowledge, as well as enormous potentials such as e-Banking, e-medicine, e-education, e-marketing, access to courses: MOOC ( Massive Open On Line Course). Thus, throughout the African continent, we are seeing the emergence of a new economy, because the fight against inequalities is first of all a great challenge. The digital sectors constitute one of the essential development levers for Africa, at the same time as this continent represents a formidable opportunity for the global digital transformation. The new models that emerge are changing the entire value chain of user infrastructure.
By 2025, our continent will be home to nearly one in five inhabitants of the planet and according to UNICEF, 41% of births will occur in Africa. In 2050, Africa’s GDP is expected to triple. This wealth creation will be carried to a very large extent, thanks to the integration of information technologies in the various sectors of the economy including the more traditional ones such as agriculture, fishing, livestock, trade, but also in activities facilitating the access of Africans to public (government) or financial (m-payment) services. Two areas are developing in Africa in mobile banking: m-banking which covers various traditional operations such as credit and m-payment also called contactless payment which simplifies transactions for consumers since ‘no code or account number is needed, everything goes through the phone’s chip which, moreover, saves time and costs for traders.
These new services should also seriously limit fraud on payments by check and bank cards. This is very important for development and growth because there is on average one bank branch per 100,000 inhabitants in Africa, 100 times less than in Europe. This new form of payment is not only a performance factor for companies but also, corresponds to the expectations of the new generation “the milleniums” born with the digital and the followers of ATAWADAC: Any Time, Any where, Any Device, Any Content (anytime, anywhere, with any terminal, for any content). This dematerialization of banking and financial activities is now in one of the active phases. We can see that this phenomenon is global and is developing very quickly in emerging countries and in Africa which already has more than 100 million users according to the Boston Consulting Group with a turnover of more than one billion USD and which should soon reach 250 million users. Efficiency, flexibility and security are the key words of m-banking. It is clear to the user or the client that the development of new relationships with their banker and contactless payment will seriously improve the structure and organization of banking networks which are not yet very developed in Africa and which are essential for promote growth.
The health sector also shows significant advances in prevention, screening, treatment and expanding access to care. The use of digital technologies makes it possible, first of all, to abolish distances, to reduce costs and to compensate for the lack of personnel or health infrastructure, in particular for isolated groups of people and remote areas. Thus, the development of portable examination kits coupled with high-quality photos with mobile phones and their transmission to specialists allows doctors to perform remote diagnoses for earlier treatments. For example, this was the case for EBOLA fever screening in Rwanda and Nigeria, real-time surveillance helped contain the epidemic. Drones are also being used to drop blood bags into hard-to-reach areas in the fight against bleeding. 3D printing can also revolutionize medicine with the manufacture of orthopedic prostheses or the detection of diseases. In the case of malaria, the creation of diagnostic kits offers low-cost services to low-income communities. Finally, the technology makes it possible to collect and analyze data (Big Data or Big Data) from anonymous mobile calls, the activity of mobile phone masts or surveillance by drones to detect epidemics. This digital revolution in the field of health is an essential element to promote growth. Education is a major area of application of digital technologies. Our country has had good experiences in this field since the 1960s through radio and television broadcasting of educational programs. Vir University Education represents a major area of application of digital technologies. Our country has had good experiences in this field since the 1960s through radio and television broadcasting of educational programs. The Virtual University of Senegal is currently training thousands of students who manage to obtain diplomas whose curricula are aligned with the economic respiration of our companies and manage to find work easily. __ data (big data or Big Data) from anonymous mobile calls, the activity of mobile phone lines or drone surveillance to detect epidemics. This digital revolution in the field of health is an essential element to promote growth. Education is a major area of application of digital technologies. Our country has had good experiences in this field since the 1960s through radio and television broadcasting of educational programs.
The Virtual University of Senegal is currently training thousands of students who manage to obtain diplomas whose curricula are aligned with the economic respiration of our businesses and manage to find work easily. Senegal obtained very appreciable results during the school exams this year, the best results since 1968 and this is apparently due to the digital pedagogy system put in place during the period of confinement which allowed the ma- Part of the pupils and students assimilate at home most of their lessons. In the education and training sector, the approach is today centered on content and use via the use of the Internet and mobile telephony: online university, digital free access course platforms . The current trend is currently manifested by a hybridization of educational systems for basic education, continuing training and apprenticeships. But access to the internet is subject to the possibility of obtaining electricity and digital skills which are also necessary to benefit from their content. Let us not forget that the appropriation of technological skills by users is just as important as the dissemination of technological advances. In a world where gray matter partially replaces raw materials, 90% of research is carried out by industrialized and emerging countries according to the priorities of their populations. It should also be noted that education is at the heart of the relationship between knowledge, power and having and currently remains insufficient both quantitatively and qualitatively to allow Africa to be in step with the new knowledge economy. In the management and urban development, we are also witnessing profound transformations with the management of urban services and smart city projects thanks to digital technology. “Digital ecosystems” based on the collaborative economy, open data and participatory production (crowdsourcing) transcend classical models of the economy based on centralization. The impact of ICTs is considerable in the formation and strengthening of civil society and more generally in the area of freedom of expression.
In terms of employment, we can say that the digital economy mainly concerns three categories of jobs: the construction of network infrastructures (fibers, satellites, telephone devices among others), peripheral materials (software design, applications, exchange platforms, videos, cultural services, etc.), and obviously all the other sectors from which companies and organizations benefit. These new professions are at the heart of tomorrow’s growth. Investments in the production of infrastructure equipment trigger a double job multiplier effect that increasingly affects companies in the periphery, then the rest of the economy.
For this multiplier effect to occur, it is essential that the qualification of entrepreneurs and the technical training of staff meet the expectations raised by the emergence of new professions. This does not exclude initially the role of resourcefulness supplemented subsequently by professional training. Companies like Google and Orange see African markets as very significant sources of growth, and they already derive more than 10% of their turnover from Africa. In 2008, Tidjane Déme was appointed Google Director for Francophone Africa. This Senegalese polytechnic engineer wants to devote himself to the creation of relevant content for Africa. Finally, African start-ups have experienced unprecedented development in recent years. Their objective is to provide quick, inexpensive solutions that are understandable by the greatest number. One can quote M-Pesa, the mobile payment system developed in Kenya, it is the emblematic example of a technological leap observed on our continent. Nicknamed “leap-frog” literally “frog jump”, this leap is the result of an ingenious use of new technologies; it no longer takes place according to a so-called classic pattern, namely from countries of the North to those of the South, but within one of the most innovative continents there is.
Today, 80% of Kenyans use their mobile to pay their bills and this phenomenon is becoming a fashion in Senegal. Investing in digital technology in the economies of the African continent is a major topical issue. The digital economy is first judged by growth and jobs. This new economy also offers the opportunity to diversify activities beyond the extractive industries of raw materials and to respond concretely to the current needs of the African continent. If it took fifty years for 25% of Americans to have access to electricity, thirty-five years for the same percentage of the population to have a telephone, and twenty-five years for television, all that was needed was six years before a quarter of Americans can use high-speed internet. The digital revolution is moving at very high speed. We are used to saying on this subject that if we reason in ordinary years in traditional sectors, in the world of the Internet, in the digital world, it becomes essential to reason in “dog years”. A dog is said to age seven times faster than a human, so when we talk about a year in the digital realm, that equals seven in other fields. Therefore, to speak of a horizon of three years is to discuss a period representing nearly a quarter of a century, which is why we should be wary of forecasts in this sector.
Development and growth in a country consist, as the famous American economist Albert Hirschman puts it, in “zigzagging to reach the chosen course using favorable winds and contrary winds”. This is what digital allows; but as the Roman philosopher Seneca puts it, “there are no favorable winds for those who do not know where they are going”. Africans will build their own modernity and therefore their growth by combining the rhythms of their own historical times and the times of globalization. Taking into account this conjunction of factors and their positive influences on the growth of a globalized economy, President Macky SALL has made digital technology one of the top priorities of the Emerging Senegal Plan, through a specific program: Digital Senegal 2025 (SN2025 ).
SN2025 is the expression of an ambition which has the fundamental objective of hoisting our country in a leading position in the long term around a slogan “Digital for all and for all users in 2025 in Senegal with a private sector dynamic and innovative in a high-performance ecosystem ”. It is based on three prerequisites: the legal and institutional framework, human capital and digital trust, and four priority areas, namely: open and affordable access to digital networks and services, a connected administration serving users and companies, the promotion of an innovative digital industry that creates added value, the diffusion of digital technology in priority economic sectors.
The SN2025 strategy is based on 28 reforms and 69 projects for an overall budget of 1361 billion FCFA. This program will undoubtedly increase the contribution of digital technology to GDP to over 10% by 2025 with the creation of 35,000 jobs. President Macky Sall has set as a single objective the mastery of digital technology which primarily concerns children and young people, and he wants at all costs to make them conquerors ready to face a new Africa in a new world. He wants young people, women and all Senegalese without exclusivity to be lucid masters in this new world so that our country is and remains more than ever in the firmament of the concert of nations which gain their growth, their development, at the cost of work. relentlessly, valued human capital with a taste for modernity. This is why he considers that in this revolution, as long as a single Senegalese woman or a single Senegalese remains outside this revolution which is both economic, cultural, social and environmental, he will consider it unfinished. I will conclude my editorial by pointing out that the digital revolution is far from exhausting its potential for innovation. It gives the impression of an eternal restart with the prospects offered by the fifth generation G5 which is seen as a necessity to accelerate growth and the pace of innovation. Since 2018, some 31 countries have already started its implementation and commercial promotion. With the increase in traffic, a real data fair is brewing which is called in English “exaflood”. In less than two years, the difficulties to connect are likely to increase almost everywhere in the world and in particular in Africa where the quality of the network is often lacking. 5G gives a lot of advantages with 10 to 100 times the speed than 4G: 1 millisecond of latency essential for connected objects and cars, 1000 times more bandwidth, 100 times more connected objects and 90% consumption less energy with a lifespan of 10 years for the batteries. More than a dozen have already launched in 31 countries led by South Korea, but also Japan, China and the USA, not to mention Finland and Great Britain.
In the corporate sector, the factories of the future appear with remote management and maintenance and, of course, autonomous vehicles. Our lifestyles will be radically transformed with “Smart Cities”, cities without traffic jams, the possibility of working at home, of learning at home, of having everything you want at home delivered with orders and payments digitized, to obtain consultations and improved health care with the multiple preventions offered by the applications of this new disruptive technology. The COVID 19 crisis has reinforced this conviction and must push Africa to prepare to live in a new world where nothing will be the same. 5G is a great need for time coherence for inclusive growth and integrated development, but not a luxury. It is important for Africa not to miss this technological shift in order to avoid being the digital colonies of other continents such as Asia and America, just like Europe and France, which must catch up with their delays in this area.