Addis Ababa — African leaders need to think digital always, especially now as the continent continues to grapple with the ongoing coronavirus crisis that has affected millions across the world, participants attending a virtual session of the African World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Implementation Meeting on "COVID-19: A Catalyst to Achieving WSIS Outcomes" agreed Monday.
Building a digital future is crucial if the continent is to become globally competitive, survive and claim the 21st century, the participants attending the meeting on the margins of the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2020 said.
They urged African countries to implement the African Union Commission's comprehensive Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa, which was developed in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Smart Africa, AUDA-NEPAD, Regional Economic Communities, the African Development Bank, Africa Telecommunications Union, Africa Capacity Building Foundation, International Telecommunication Union and the World Bank.
The strategy builds on existing initiatives and frameworks such as the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), to support the development of a Digital Single Market (DSM) for Africa, as part of the integration priorities of the AUC.
Its main aim is to serve as a frame of reference in order to achieve the common vision of creating an integrated and inclusive digital society and economy in Africa that improves the quality of life of its citizens, strengthens and enables the diversification and development of the existing economic sector, and ensures continental ownership, with Africa as a producer and not only a consumer in the global economy.
Panelists and participants agreed harnessing digital technologies and innovation to transform Africa's societies and economies was crucial not only to promote Africa's integration but also generate inclusive economic growth, stimulate job creation, erase the widening digital divide and eradicate poverty to secure the benefits of the digital revolution for socio-economic development.
In his remarks, Andrew Rugege, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Regional Director for Africa, said the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic has "shown the practicality of an information society in combating not only this but other pandemics and crises as well".
"Organizations, governments, private sector and even individuals are trying to find ways of using ICT to detect, manage and minimize the impact of COVID-19," said Mr. Rugege, adding the ITU is working with member States on a number of projects he said could help Africa to fight the pandemic if accelerated.
Launched in 2019, Giga sets the goal of providing connectivity to every school in the world. Some 3.6 billion people in the world do not have access to the Internet, among them 1.3 billion children who have been cut from school by the ongoing crisis, said Mr. Rugege.
Mr. Rugege said the project will bring the power of meaningful connectivity to fast track young people's access to educational resources and opportunities, especially in Africa.
For his part, Jean Paul Adam, Director of the Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management Division at the ECA, said ICTs are an important engine for achieving the sustainable development goals.
"ICTs can play a crucial role in our lives and can greatly contribute to the implementation of the SDGs. They provide new solutions and, where appropriate infrastructure, skills, and services are available, they can be incredibly powerful in transforming education, healthcare or the way we do business," he said.
"However, our main challenge remains the digital divide that is today widespread in Africa with a very low rate of connectivity. We can never meet the 2030 target if we do not urgently address the issue of connectivity across the continent."
Mr. Adam said to meet the SDGs and the AU's Agenda 2063 through the implementation of WSIS action lines, "it will be key to engage in constructive cooperation, improved exchange of information in relation to ongoing initiatives in the continent, and joint identification of relevant cross-sectoral issues and interfaces as well as strong partnerships between all stakeholders, including governments, international organizations, the private sector, civil society, and the technical and academic communities".
Moctar Yedaly, Head of the Information Society Division at the AUC, said African leaders thinking digital is critically important for the continent's future.
"This is a great opportunity for the continent to transform itself. The digital economy is an important sector so we need to embrace technology and leapfrog if we are to survive," he said, adding the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa is key to unlocking transforming Africa.
The meeting addressed progress made by African countries in the implementation of the WSIS outcomes to fight COVID-19 in the attainment of the SDGs and Agenda 2063; showcased African initiatives in the COVID-19 battle; assessed the implementation of the Africa Digital Transformation Strategy in line with WSIS; assessed key actions being taken to bridge the digital divide on the continent; discussed Africa's digital infrastructure access; and cyber safety and sensitivity amid COVID-19 and related topics.