There is an urgent need for a data governance framework in the region that is backed by strong and empowered institutions that can support development and allow entrepreneurship to flourish, offering huge opportunities for the African continent.

Rapid digital growth could lead to big developments in Africa

Rapid digitalization offers enormous opportunities for the African continent, galvanizing regional developments such as free trade areas and structural transformations which, in turn, promise economic and social growth. Moreover, with the pandemic proving that digital access is a necessity for all, creating secure and reliable digital infrastructures should be a priority for all. But while African countries have benefited from the adoption of technology in the health and economic sectors, there is a large digital divide and threats ranging from digital monopolies to lack of electricity to regulation. inefficient could slow down this digital revolution. Implementing a data governance framework for the entire continent is therefore a critical next step.

A regional approach to data governance

A data governance framework is a set of rules and processes that ensure privacy and compliance with corporate data management in a country or region. With cybercrime, ransomware attacks, and identity theft on the rise, ensuring that all organizations and governments adhere to an established set of rules will provide security for consumers and encourage confidence for entrepreneurs. There are two main sets of laws:

  • Safeguard laws are the best known. These are laws focused on data protection and privacy, and by 2021, some 52% of African countries had enacted at least some form of data protection legislation.
  • Enabling laws are less well known. The idea of ​​enabling laws is to support development outcomes, and policy makers in Africa should step up their efforts on this type of policy. Investing in information technology infrastructure, improving technical skills in the region, and standardizing regulations, especially in e-commerce and financial transactions, enable businesses to take advantage of digital opportunities.

While national efforts continue, the data policy environment in Africa as a whole remains fragmented. Currently, only eight African countries have ratified the Malabo Convention, a regional approach to data protection and cybercrime, and only six are participating in the World Trade Organization’s e-commerce negotiations to put in place new rules. global business for e-commerce and digital commerce.

Rapid growth constrained by infrastructure issues

Before the continent can properly achieve any kind of digital transformation, it needs to solve a connectivity problem. In 2017, only 22% of the population had internet access, excluding most of the continent from e-commerce and other new services. This holds back both startups, which struggle to attract funding, and established businesses that are slow to adopt digital technologies due to the lack of customers who benefit from them. While the ICT and mobile phone sectors have grown since then, especially after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of people in Africa still lack basic connectivity. In response to this, two main options are being considered:

  • Increase in sovereign debt to pay for new infrastructure, much of it provided by China. This strategy has many other challenges, not the least of which is the transparency and corruption surrounding such agreements, but also the predatory nature of many agreements.
  • Allowing the private sector to thrive by establishing the regulatory conditions under which it can develop. Too often in Africa, entrepreneurial successes happen in the face of government interference, rather than because of it. African businesses have become accustomed to circumventing government obstacles, rather than capitalizing on government policies.

A united regional approach focused on “enabling laws” would help address this issue, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) represents a key stepping stone to regional data governance and infrastructure policy that could begin to change. this environment.

From cybercrime to monopolies to outsourcing

Even if infrastructure issues are slowly being addressed, a truly effective regional data governance framework is important to promote productive and inclusive growth on the continent. In order to ensure that technology complements and does not replace workers, the digital literacy of the African workforce needs to be increased, both in terms of technical and soft skills. This will help promote job opportunities, rather than replacing jobs with offshore jobs or automation.

There is also the threat of private companies themselves. The current digitally dominant platform-based business model encourages a winner-takes-all, monopolistic paradigm, which is particularly detrimental to developing economies. Yet leaving the solution to governments raises questions about data protection and citizen privacy. Either way, it results in high prices, poor quality of services, and potentially includes privacy breaches for customers and users of the services.

The intersection of all these threats significantly affects the potential positive impacts of digitalization on the African continent. There is an urgent need for a data governance framework in the region that is supported by strong and empowered institutions. This can foster a fair and competitive ICT market on the continent, fostering sustainable and productive growth.

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