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While many sectors and facilities have seen their state being affected by the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the same cannot be said of progress in digital transformation especially in Africa.

The new report from International Telecommunication Union (ITU) titled “Digital trends in Africa 2021: Information and communication technology trends and developments in the Africa region, 2017-2020,” has extrapolated that although the pandemic has created chaos in many sections and infrastructure the world over, the trajectory for digital transformation has assumed an upwardly mobile trend. 

“While COVID-19 has dominated the headlines throughout 2020, the consistent development and deployment of information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and its concomitant services has meant a continued trend towards digital transformation for societies, businesses and governments alike,” says the ITU report.

It goes on to say that since the last World Telecommunication Development Conference in 2017 (WTDC-17), ICTs have continued to spread. “ITU data show that, in 2019, Internet use surpassed the 50 per cent mark (51.4 per cent globally by the end of 2019), 75 per cent of the total world population had an active mobile broadband subscription, and fixed broadband subscription had grown to just over 15 per cent. Over 57 per cent of households today have Internet access at home.”

Accelerating the impact of COVID-19 on digital transformation Consumer surveys show that digital adoption among consumers has increased at an accelerated pace, varying by the degree of severity of restrictions imposed in different localities. Accelerating impact of COVID-19 on digital transformation Adoption of digital technologies among enterprises has accelerated by several years to improve consumer and supply-chain online interactions as well as internal operations.

“Generally,” says the report in the hands of BizTech Africa, “the pandemic has forced a greater demand for digital reliance across the board, and this outcome is likely to be here to stay in the “new normal”, as the utility of more abundant data and the ever-lower cost of using those data influence how entrepreneurs, policy-makers and professionals make decisions.”

The ITU however says the pandemic, is just but one driver of current trends, there are many others. “Climate responsibility continued economic development, demographic shifts and social wellbeing are also key drivers. In the light of these global trends, policy development that is focused on inclusion, access, security, skills and sustainability in terms of emerging technologies and their benefits is poised to become one of the defining characteristics of the 2020s. This is mirrored in the ITU regional initiatives for Africa and the related ITU-D thematic priorities, which remain highly relevant going forward.

It goes on to say above all, the development of meaningful and affordable connectivity is a key priority for the region to accelerate digital transformation as a means of achieving better, more inclusive and human condition enhancing outcomes. “This can be achieved through predictable and sustainable investments and partnerships, fit-for-purpose collaborative policy and regulation, and targeted demand-side approaches. “

Another key priority going forward is adequate access to analogue complements such as electricity in order to reap the benefits of the digital economy.

Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, distributed ledger technology, precision medicine, digital trade, autonomous mobility and many more evolving technological arenas will shape the future of the world, including Africa.

The good news coming from ITU is that Africa has the opportunity to set an example for the world in how to use emerging technologies within targeted local contexts including in the area of digital payments, precision farming3, predictive health4, and many more, to address some of its most pressing challenges such as harnessing Africa’s youth dividend effectively 5 towards sustainable development and inclusive growth.

“Ultimately, at the heart of this historical transformation, ICT infrastructure is the predominant enabler – along with fit-for-purpose policy – of the future competitiveness and prosperity of Africa. Robust infrastructure on which emerging technologies ride can help meet some of the continent’s most pressing challenges. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that improving ICT infrastructure is more than a goal for operators and consumers; far more than simply facilitating mobile and broadband connections,” the report adds.

The analysis says further that improving ICT infrastructure allows for global and local supply chain integration, the innovative use of critical health information, the opportunity for citizens to improve their options in the workforce, enables students to gain skill sets previously unavailable to them, among many more positive externalities that are changing the course of history.

“Indeed, it will be history that looks back at this early era of technological development to see how policies and governance approaches reinforced the resilience and responsiveness of societies, while assessing risks, protecting consumers and enabling positive outcomes for citizens.”

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