Digital in Africa: the urgency of training

REPORT. While the digital sector breaks records of growth, experts from the Boston Consulting Group warn of the main challenge to be overcome, that of training.

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IExperts are unanimous: by 2050, approximately 40% of the world’s population under the age of 18 will have been born and raised in Africa. Not to mention the fact that, with a population of 1.3 billion, the African continent will become home to the world’s fastest growing workforce and consumer market. So many trends that will inevitably have a very strong impact on the trajectory of the continent, with other data that must also be taken into account, such as climate change, the explosion of cities, etc. But only 3 million jobs are created annually in Africa, while 10 to 12 million young people enter the labor market each year, according to the International Labor Organization.

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Digital services on the rise

In this context, the booming digital sector can offer opportunities. Especially since the digital economy revolution has been underway in Africa in recent years. In ten years, Internet penetration in sub-Saharan Africa has tripled. And, according to projections, Africa’s digital economy will reach US$180 billion by 2025 and US$712 billion by 2050. From agriculture to e-commerce, from health to means of payment, the fields of application are endless and the continent has developed a dynamic innovation ecosystem in several areas. A real opportunity for certain territories, already highly digitized. In Kenya, for example, mobile payment has replaced cash payment, bypassing a bank teller. Today the mobile money accounts for 50% of the country’s GDP. While in 2019 Africa had more than 600 technology hubs, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the urgency of transformation to be more digital. And it is already visible, as investment in technology startups reached just over US$ 700 million in 2020, against US$ 492 million in 2019.

Should we, however, conclude that the continent has caught up with the rest of the world? In a recent report, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) sheds a subtle light on this issue. In fact, the continent still has the lowest internet usage rate in the world. Only around 40% of the population has access to the internet, compared to a global average of 66%. This data also impacts companies and, despite the remarkable momentum observed in technology ecosystems, most startups cannot grow.

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Priority to training

BCG experts particularly point to training as a sticking point, though it could become a lever for sub-Saharan Africa to derive the greatest possible benefit from the current digital boom. According to their calculations, up to 650 million Africans should be trained in digital skills by 2030. To support this urgency, African chiefs were interviewed. Result: Nine out of ten African business leaders identify “developing digital skills as a priority area that requires additional investment”. Today, according to specialists “of the 20 countries in the world with the lowest digital skills, 12 are in Africa and only 11% of higher education graduates in Africa have formal digital training”, can be read in the document published in November. For specialists, better cooperation between large international companies – such as Citi, IBM or Cisco –, local incubators – there are already 600 – and education systems will boost the development of training in new technologies. The local private sector is also increasingly active. However, all these efforts will need to be supported by African governments, many of which have published digital strategies.

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Integrating more young people and betting on the climate

The authors also looked at ways of thinking that would enable Africa to make the most of the digital economy. First of all, experts recommend massive integration into these digital training courses, in particular for young Africans entering the job market. They also advise African countries to invest in training specialized skills in climate data analysis, with the aim of strengthening the continent’s resilience to climate change. Although the continent contributes less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 16 of the 20 most climate-vulnerable states in the world are in Africa. In this context, decision-makers increasingly want to anticipate and understand risks, but also financing needs and issues related to climate change, “especially for the most vulnerable populations”. “Unfortunately, data-driven planning is still limited and the analytical capabilities needed to apply data and information to real-world decision-making and action are also considered weak. For BCG experts, “investing in these skills is of crucial importance for the continent. This will enable evidence-based decision making by building the necessary infrastructure and skills.”

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