$100 Million directed at Niger to increase digital connectivity and infrastructure
The World Bank Board of Directors recently approved a $100 million International Development Association (IDA) which includes $50 million credit and $50 million grant to help Niger implement an ambitious program to use digital infrastructure and services to modernize its economy and strengthen access to basic services.
Niger suffers from underdeveloped digital infrastructures and, despite the presence of several mobile network operators; the country has one of the lowest levels of telephone coverage in Africa. About half of the population is not covered by mobile broadband, and there are huge gaps in coverage between urban and rural areas where most of the population live. Moreover, the country’s weak performance in financial inclusion has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has negatively impacted the delivery of financial services, especially for women and people living in the poorest areas.
The Smart Villages for Rural Growth and Digital Inclusion project aims to increase access to cellphone and broadband services in rural areas and to bring digital financial services to selected underserved areas in Niger. Most specifically, the Smart Villages project will increase digital connectivity by supporting reforms that would help create an enabling environment for private investments in the telecoms sector. It will promote women’s access to telecommunications and financial services by helping develop a national digital equity strategy. About 1,240,000 people (most of whom are farmers) in 2,111 selected villages will benefit from the project’s key activities which include, inter alia, financing digital infrastructures, conducting digital and financial literacy campaigns, modernizing farmers’ cooperatives’ payments devices to allow digital payments, and creating of digital data platforms for farmers.
"Digital transformation in Africa can raise the growth rate by almost 2% per year and reduce poverty by almost 1% per year. If combined with investments in human capital, these gains can be doubled,” says Joelle Dehasse, World Bank Country Manager for Niger. “In the context of Niger, this initiative will help build more resilient digital infrastructure and foster innovations to improve citizens’ access to basic social services and their welfare, including in the poorest and most fragile regions."
In view of the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Smart Villages project will accelerate the adoption of mobile payments to reduce cash payments which are less secure and can contribute to spreading the infection. "The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the necessity to accelerate digital transformation in order to help countries like Niger to maintain private sector activities and save lives and jobs”, says Tim Kelly, World Bank’s Lead Digital Development Specialist, and co-Task Team Leader for the project. “The new project will support Niger to harness its potential for digital development by ensuring that all citizens have access to high quality and low-cost internet, that public services are easily accessible online, and that the digital economy is driving growth, innovation and job creation".
The new project is well aligned with Niger’s Economic and Social Development Plan (2017-2021), and with the country’s national digital strategy which includes the Smart Villages Program aimed at providing a full range of digitally transformative services to rural populations. It is also consistent with the World Bank Group’s Country Partnership Framework (CPF 2018-2022) which aims to help Niger foster the expansion of digital networks in rural areas by the private sector and support the use of key digital applications and services by the populations.