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Digital Inclusion

MWC Kigali 2023: Three strategies for digital transformation ITU

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The International Telecommunication Union's (ITU's) Secretary General, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, believes that closing the mobile usage gap, building strong partnerships and investing in sustainable digital transformation are key to Africa's digital future.

Speaking as part of the keynote sessions at Mobile World Congress (MWC) Kigali 2023 in Rwanda, this week, she said that Africa's digital transformation journey is moving in the right direction, and it is important to build digital capacity where it can have the greatest impact.

"I have three areas where I believe we can have the greatest impact on Africa's future digital transformation. The first is [closing] the usage gap," she said.

"Most of us who still don't use the mobile internet live in the areas that are covered by mobile broadband with the usage gap reaching close to 60% in sub-Saharan Africa," she said, quoting the GSMA's State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2023 report.

The coverage gap concerns those who live in an area not covered by a mobile broadband network, which in sub-Saharan Africa is around 15% of the population. Meanwhile, the usage gap refers to those who live within the footprint of a mobile broadband network but still do not use mobile Internet services this is the case for 59% of Africans living in sub-Saharan Africa.

"I want to give this example: In Sierra Leone 80% of schools are actually covered by 3G or 4G. But less than 2% of schools that have this coverage are actually connected to the Internet. That's the message that the country's Minister of Communications, Technology and Innovation [Salima Mormorna Bah] delivered to us last month in New York, where she stressed that connecting the schools can actually have the potential increase in GDP of 14%, which is unbelievable," Bogdan-Martin said in her speech.

"That means that there's so much room for hope, especially when it comes to improving affordability and of course digital skills and it's not an either/or, we need both," she added.

"Financial technology is starting to make a big difference in everyday lives of our citizens. The potential of digital health technology to transform our health systems. That means we have to address the gaps to access and connectivity with a sense of urgency. Too many Africans remain offline," added Rwandan President Paul Kagame during his keynote address at the event.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame speaking at MWC Kigali 2023 in Rwanda.  (Source: GSMA)
Rwandan President Paul Kagame speaking at MWC Kigali 2023 in Rwanda.
(Source: GSMA)

President Kagame said that even though Africa has the fastest-growing mobile penetration rate globally, the continent still has a long way to go.

"Yet, we already have the means to address the problems we are dealing with today. We must continue to prioritize digital skills and literacy. Globally, we are also seeing strong momentum to support Africa's digital transformation," Kagame added.

Partnerships and sustainability

Bogdan-Martin said that bold, innovative partnerships are another area that will move digital transformation forward.

"We need to focus our efforts on everything that can make connectivity more meaningful. Of course, that also includes infrastructure. I saw it firsthand when I recently visited the Melkadida refugee camp in Ethiopia that borders Somalia. That's why the ITU, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and GSMA, joined forces and came together to launch a global pledge to connect all refugee camps and their hosting communities by 2030," she said.

ITU Secretary General Doreen Bogdan-Martin speaking at MWC Kigali 2023 in Rwanda.   (Source: GSMA)
ITU Secretary General Doreen Bogdan-Martin speaking at MWC Kigali 2023 in Rwanda.
(Source: GSMA)

The third area of focus for Bogdan-Martin is sustainability.

"Universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation go hand in hand and they are at the bedrock of ITU's strategic priorities. African nations are really showing the way here. In particular in the space of e-waste in countries like Rwanda, for example, who is strengthening extended producer responsibility, providing quite an interesting approach for all countries to consider when building your own waste management system," she said.

The ITU secretary general believes Africa is also showing the way in climate action.

"A strong message was recently sent by African leaders that gathered for the first African climate summit in Nairobi, calling for green investments and showing the world that Africa is ready to lead," she said. "With technology supporting economic development plans for climate-positive growth with technology to propel Africa's economic growth and job creation, not only limiting emissions, but also aiming at global decarbonization efforts," Bogdan-Martin explained.

"Closing the usage gap, building strong partnerships, investing in sustainable digital transformation those are the steps that we need to take now and we need to do that together so that we can build an inclusive and sustainable digital future that will define the rest of the century, that could be an Africa century," she concluded.

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*Top image is of ITU Secretary General Doreen Bogdan-Martin, speaking at MWC Kigali 2023. (Source: GSMA)

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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