African governments must digitize in order to become more innovative, more inclusive and more resilient
By Ryno Rijnsburger, Director of New Technologies, Microsoft 4Afrika initiative
More than ever, the Covid-19 pandemic now offers Africa the opportunity to make a huge leap forward in development and potentially position itself as a major digital power internationally. While the private sector has an important role to play in this dynamic, governments across Africa should step up efforts to further encourage digitization. To do this, they must capitalize more on the development of digital infrastructures, but also on the digitization of their own systems and processes, while creating a regulatory and legal environment that is favorable to digitization. Certain international conventions such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ZLECAF) reinforce more than ever the need for digitization of governments to further encourage continental trade, but also to establish a logic of economic growth throughout Africa.
In its report “Reopening and Reimagining Africa”, McKinsey and Partners recalls the extent to which governments have a key role to play in creating an enabling environment for digitization, in particular by ensuring that regulatory and legislative environments can support and encourage digitization. Governments must therefore step up the provision of digital information and services and use digital tools to help them better collect, manage and use data. Governments have already succeeded in responding decisively and swiftly to the Covid-19 crisis, putting aside bureaucracy and opening up more to a culture of data sharing and coordination. Such a business model could be duplicated by the public sector in the future.
The benefits of the digital economy are enormous
Digital technologies offer the possibility of accelerating the pace of economic and social progress, opening new avenues for faster economic growth, but also for innovation, job creation and access to services. However, many people in Africa still do not have access to the internet, do not have a digital identity, and do not have access to even the most basic banking services.
The initiative launched by the World Bank to foster the digital economy in Africa has demonstrated how many governments on the continent are not investing strategically and systematically in the development of infrastructure, services, skills and digital entrepreneurship. It is now imperative for governments to find more flexible and efficient ways to deliver viable digital services that will allow them to better interact with citizens.
In order to accelerate the digital transformation, it is necessary to ensure that the public sector can become more anchored in the digital age through the deployment, for example, of identity cards, signatures and digital registers, but also to through the implementation of policies that are favorable to digital technology. In this area, public-private partnerships could play an important role.
In Morocco, our partnership with Algo Consulting allowed us to develop Wraqi, an online administration solution that uses machine learning, IoT (Internet of Things) and blockchain to improve relations between citizens and government. . From the cloud, Wraqi offers users the ability to create an account based on a signature repository that government entities can use to identify, authenticate and authorize citizens to access administrative documents. Any government service that previously required the physical presence of a citizen can now be performed remotely using electronic signatures and multi-factor authentication. Developments like this could help SMEs reap the potential benefits of digital identification by unlocking their access to new types of financial services, for example …
Digital skills must be developed
The debate around digital skills is a growing topic: civil servants now need to acquire the digital skills required to be able to accelerate the digitization of administrations and public services. At the same time, governments need to improve the digital skills of citizens and thus enable them to fully participate in the emergence of a digital economy that is both sustainable and inclusive.
In South Africa, Microsoft 4Afrika is working with the Gauteng Provincial Government to establish a Center of Excellence to drive digital innovation, accelerate skills development and strengthen the digital capabilities of employees in this province. This center also helps train more than 3,000 software developers.
One such project aims to provide Gauteng government employees with modern technological tools and skills, in addition to stimulating their spirit of innovation. It also aims to ensure significant participation of residents of traditionally underserved areas, while creating a digital empowerment platform for all communities in the province. The goal is to successfully accelerate the digital transformation of the Gauteng provincial government through the creation of a dynamic ecosystem.
Politics play a major role in creating an enabling environment
It goes without saying that policies play a key role in creating an enabling environment for digitization. Digital technologies are essential to tackle socio-economic challenges, and policymakers need to step up them. The government remains the strategic catalyst for this transformation to which Microsoft is contributing by offering wider remote access to as many people as possible, but also by accentuating collaboration between stakeholders and providing digital services that are both reliable and secure, which promote greatly sustainability and processing. A McKinsey report estimated that African public services could achieve annual productivity gains ranging from $ 10 to $ 25 billion by 2025 by relying on measures such as the digitization of public records management or planning. business resources. End-to-end digitization of tax or fine collection would greatly enhance revenue collection for African governments.
Challenges, but also opportunities …
There are a number of challenges to overcome as it is undeniably a colossal task in every way. Cristina Duarte, special advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, made a shrewd observation when she said in an article published by the IMF that “the massive adoption of digital technologies also means that policymakers will need to be aware of the complex legal and ethical impact of technology on society and tackling it, particularly in terms of respect for privacy, protection of data confidentiality and the fight against tax evasion”. However, if African governments are able to embrace digitization with agility and speed, the benefits could be immense for the continent and its people, in addition to greatly fostering sustainable and inclusive economic development.