Digital Africa, the technological transformation of jobs It studies pathways to produce and promote the expanded use of affordable and attractive digital technologies (DTs) suitable for a growing workforce in sub-Saharan Africa and to facilitate lifelong learning through use. DTs are defined broadly to include digital infrastructure, data, broadband internet, smartphones, tablets and computers. They also include more specialized solutions to enhance productivity, such as management upgrade, worker training, procurement, marketing, logistics, finance and insurance.
- Two empirical studies conducted for this report add to the rapidly growing evidence base that technology provides a path to inclusive productivity growth. These studies analyze geospatial information about mobile internet tower startups over time, along with surveys of household data over six to seven years. Studies show that Internet availability has a clear positive effect on jobs and well-being.
- Other empirical studies highlight the indirect effects of Internet availability on jobs through entrepreneurship, innovation, and foreign direct investment. The availability of the Internet also expands the demand side of production and boosts aggregate growth.
- Despite this good news that Internet availability has strong causal effects on jobs, the report also underscores the relative lack of DT use in Africa. Very few people benefit, as Africa’s Internet infrastructure coverage and quality still lags behind other regions. While on average across countries in sub-Saharan Africa 84% of people live in areas where 3G service is available, and 54% have some 4G mobile internet service, only 22% were using mobile internet services as of End of 2024. Usage rates range from 6% in South Sudan to 53% in South Africa, underlining the heterogeneity of average usage and the need for differentiated policy reforms across countries.
- The main trade control issue for African companies continues to be low productive utilization. The main factors affecting companies’ use of smartphones and computers, and more complex DTs, is the inability to pay for them and the willingness to use them. For example, 1.5 GB of data over 30 days, a package that covers about a few hours of daily use, amounts to about a third of income for the 40% of Africans who fall below the extreme poverty line.
- In this regard, women tend to be at a disadvantage: only 2% of small businesses owned by young women and 8% of small businesses owned by young men use a computer.
- To change this, the report recommends better access to credit, targeted regulation, and market-driven rate cuts to help address affordability. In addition, the use of the Internet must be seen as a means of increasing family income and reducing poverty, and therefore the policy goal is to increase productive use of the Internet to increase family income, and thus the ability to pay.
- Cutting-edge, creative, and easy-to-use applications with touch screen, audio, and video in the many languages spoken by Africans can increase adoption of these technologies. Developing these types of applications and new DTs requires public-private investments and programs with business advisory services and worker training programs.
- DTs are necessary but not sufficient by themselves. Electricity, road access, education, skills, as well as attainable financing are all part of the solution.
- Finally, national strategies and relevant policies should be implemented to ensure the affordability and availability of infrastructure and data infrastructure. Investments could include common access facilities for all and entrepreneurship training and support centres.
- Bold policy actions that create an enabling environment for digital analytics will lead to visible positive impacts for governments, businesses and households.