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Despite Africa’s progress in fulfilling the promises of developing the Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) sector and creating an enabling ecosystem for digital economy, the continent still lags behind the rest of the world, African experts and policymakers attending a high-level ICT-themed meeting said on Saturday.

“Despite the progress made in fulfilling its promises for developing ICTs and an enabling ecosystem for an all-englobing digital economy through a jump from basic voice/text services to broadband solutions and worthwhile achievements in financial inclusion, Africa still lags behind the rest of the world,” participants said in their joint final statement on Saturday following the just concluded Annual Africa Regional Review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Implementation meeting.

Business24

Experts and policymakers attending the high-level ICT-themed continental meeting, which was held under the coordination of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), mainly asserted that the African continent is the least in terms of progress in realizing the 15 action lines of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which is said to be a key global movement for interconnectedness towards development that started in 2005.

Mactar Seck, Economic Affairs Officer at the ECA, also told the meeting that the main challenges for Africa “lie in the areas of developing e-commerce, infrastructure for reaching the most remote areas and communities toward universal access to the information superhighway, huge costs for connectivity, inadequate service quality and cybercrime.”

Seck further emphasized the crucial role of the continental Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS) — which advocates enabling African countries to fully benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution — in facilitating the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) and, ultimately, nudge the continent to economic and structural transformation.

The continental Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS), which was developed by the African Union (AU) and ECA in collaboration with other partners, mainly envisaged transforming Africa’s political and regulatory environment, infrastructure development, capacity development and innovation and research.

The ECA official also urged African policymakers, experts, representatives of regional economic communities, the private sector and intergovernmental organizations in the ICT sector as well as telecommunications operators “to constitute a massive front for implementing Africa’s Digital Transformation Strategy.”

According to figures from the ECA, the African continent is home to 21 of the world’s 25 least connected countries, which the ECA stressed is “a reminder of the urgency to implement the said strategy.”

The annual regional meeting, which was deliberated under the theme “Information and Communication Technologies for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” also emphasized the need to generate cardinal discussion points from Africa at the 2020 WSIS forum to be held in Geneva next April.

Cameroon’s Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Minette Libom Li Likeng, also noted the need to exert concerted efforts in digital transition plan and infrastructure development in the areas of submarine cable, urban fiber optic, and internet hotspots, as well as improvements in service quality across Africa.

“It is imperative that countries work to reduce the digital divide and accelerate the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) by using ICTs to harness the resources of this technological revolution for human development,” Li Likeng said.

“This is about bridging the digital gap, certainly, but especially about reducing economic and social divides around the world,” Likeng added.

The annual Africa regional review is underway ahead of the upcoming WSIS global forum, slated to be held from April 6 to 9 next year in Geneva, Switzerland. The global WSIS Forum represents the world’s largest annual gathering of the “ICT for development” community.

According to the ECA’s latest report on Africa’s progress in the ICT sector, among the areas the continent registered major progress in terms of the 15 global priority areas, dubbed WSIS-15 Action Lines, include progress on the role of governments and all stakeholders in the promotion of ICTs for development (Line 1), in which about 44 African countries are noted to have developed national e-strategies.

Some 37 percent of African countries also said to have platforms to provide government information online, which is the major aspiration of action “Line 3” on access to information and knowledge, it was noted.

The ECA also disclosed that about 70 percent of African countries have developed cyber-security legislation, 69 percent have drawn-up criminal legislation, and 30 percent are providing capacity building in cyber-security issues – major progress under the action “Line 5” on building confidence and security in the use of ICTs.

“Africa is also recording several initiatives” ranging from the African Internet Governance Forum to the AU’s African Internet Exchange System Project to promote keeping intra-African Internet traffic and bodies such as Smart Africa, which are said to be critical in realizing action “Line 11” on international and regional cooperation. Enditem

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