Africa Flagships

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Digital Africa: Technological Transformation for Jobs

2023-03-13, Begazo, Tania, Dutz, Mark Andrew, Blimpo, Moussa

All African countries need better and more jobs for their growing populations. "Digital Africa: Technological Transformation for Jobs" shows that broader use of productivity-enhancing, digital technologies by enterprises and households is imperative to generate such jobs, including for lower-skilled people. At the same time, it can support not only countries’ short-term objective of postpandemic economic recovery but also their vision of economic transformation with more inclusive growth. These outcomes are not automatic, however. Mobile internet availability has increased throughout the continent in recent years, but Africa’s uptake gap is the highest in the world. Areas with at least 3G mobile internet service now cover 84 percent of Africa’s population, but only 22 percent uses such services. And the average African business lags in the use of smartphones and computers as well as more sophisticated digital technologies that catalyze further productivity gains. Two issues explain the usage gap: affordability of these new technologies and willingness to use them. For the 40 percent of Africans below the extreme poverty line, mobile data plans alone would cost one-third of their incomes—in addition to the price of access devices, apps, and electricity. Data plans for small- and medium-size businesses are also more expensive than in other regions. Moreover, shortcomings in the quality of internet services—and in the supply of attractive, skills-appropriate apps that promote entrepreneurship and raise earnings—dampen people’s willingness to use them. For those countries already using these technologies, the development payoffs are significant. New empirical studies for this report add to the rapidly growing evidence that mobile internet availability directly raises enterprise productivity, increases jobs, and reduces poverty throughout Africa. To realize these and other benefits more widely, Africa’s countries must implement complementary and mutually reinforcing policies to strengthen both consumers’ ability to pay and willingness to use digital technologies. These interventions must prioritize productive use to generate large numbers of inclusive jobs in a region poised to benefit from a massive, youthful workforce—one projected to become the world’s largest by the end of this century.