AFRICAN countries must embrace digital technology, and in doing so, they will be able to manage a variety of developmental, economic and social challenges, the World Bank argues in a recent report.
The report highlights how the challenges facing developing countries, including climate shocks, fragility, and population transitions will reshape the continent’s work landscape. African’s move towards adopting digital technology will aid it in meeting these challenges.
The report states that Africa has an opportunity to forge a different path from the rest of the world if digital technologies are harnessed correctly by governments and businesses, by ensuring that critical policies and investments are in place.
It cites a recent study showing that faster internet speeds in African countries have increased the employment rate not only for university graduates, but also for workers with a secondary or even a primary-level education.
The success of digital and related technology adoption depends on having the right supportive policies in effect, however. Governments must ensure sufficient market competition and provide better entrepreneurial and worker human capital, as well as better physical infrastructure. In addition, stronger capacities to increase public investments in social protection are needed, according to the World Bank.
Africa has a small manufacturing base so automation is not likely to displace many workers over the coming years. But digital technology adoption can nevertheless help businesses reduce their costs and prices, enabling them to expand their production and employment. In addition, access to internet and mobile apps can help low-skilled workers to learn better farming practices or sell more effectively in markets.
The report proposes several key policy recommendations for governments to consider.
It advocates ensuring that digital infrastructure is available and affordable to all, in rural and urban areas alike, and across all demographics, by developing digital infrastructure regulation that spurs competition, supports universal access, and promotes integration across countries to create bigger markets, in addition to providing complementary physical infrastructure such as reliable electricity.
Governments must also support the inventors and entrepreneurs that are needed to develop tools both for improving the skills of low-skilled workers in their current occupations and for the new tasks that the adoption of new technologies will enable.
It must also support the upgrading of the skills of workers in the informal economy.
Finally, social protection coverage should be expanded to spur greater entrepreneurial and worker risk-taking, and to facilitate worker transitions between jobs, the report recommends.