TAS2018: What Africa needs to build a single digital market

Dr Mukhisa Kituyi speaks during a panel discussion yesterday. Village Urugwiro.

Harmonised policies and a regulatory framework, political will especially in working together, development of appropriate infrastructure, and improved education systems are among the crucial building blocks the continent requires so as to have a successful single digital market.

This conclusion was drawn Tuesday by different experts on a panel discussion at the Transform Africa Summit (TAS2018) that is underway in Kigali.

The panel had Houlin Zhao, Secretary General, International Telecommunications Union; Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, the African Union Commission’s commissioner for infrastructure and energy; Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, the UNCTAD Secretary General; and Strive Masiyiwa, a Zimbabwe-born businessman, among others.

What is a single digital market?

According to Bert Kastel, a US-based tech expert, a single digital market simply means “tearing down all borders and let technology do what it can; meaning that, among other things, by using the blockchain, you can have immediate and almost zero cost to the transfer of money in countries.”

The blockchain is a way of storing data so that it can’t be changed, he added.

Zhao said ICT is a vital enabler when it comes to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement recently signed by African leaders in Kigali.

“ICT is very important in transforming Africa. It is pertinent for this project,” he said.

According to Masiyiwa, when talking about ICT there is need to avoid talking about it in generic terms but “dig deep” so as to, for example, encourage African entrepreneurs come up with requisite solutions to problems.

“We also need to improve a lot in other areas such as the insurance sector; and insure our entrepreneurs,” said Masiyiwa, who is the founder and executive Chairman of Econet, a global telecommunication firm.

He said that the fact that mobile money solution is used by millions of Africans in their everyday lives goes a long way in showing that technology can make a difference on the continent.

On his part, UNCTAD boss Kituyi said there is need to mobilise the constituency, especially young people on the continent, to own and drive the agenda.

Lessons from Estonia

Several speakers suggested borrowing a leaf from Estonia, the most advanced digital society in the world, which is represented at the meeting.

Rait Raal, Business Development Director of ReachU, an Estonian company that provides e-solutions in different areas including tourism, told The New Times that there are two key elements Africa should consider in its pursuit for a successful single digital market.

First, he said, it has to be a free market for services.

Raal said: “A company from one country has no restrictions in providing services in another country.”

“Second, it also has to be agreed how digital services will be taxed so as to benefit the countries; which country will collect the revenue?”

“Having a clear understanding of how African countries will share revenues of the digital market will be crucial.”

What African governments can do, Raal added, is to support the creation of digital services such as startup hubs like Safaricom in Kenya.



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