Feb 7, 2023

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Digital connectivity an economic imperative for East Africa

Digital connectivity provided by telecom and mobile network operators (MNOs) is well positioned to positively impact women’s access to resources, ‘formalise’ informal employment and increase access to education for all. Communication and internet access are transformative, empowering citizens to make meaningful contributions to their country’s economy and shape a sustainable economic future.

“The ever-evolving offering of Technology leads to life-enhancing possibilities. As more technology enters our communities, we can expect everyday problems to be solved through its use. An intriguing example is telemedicine, where patients don’t have to travel great distances to reach a doctor, but can go to a connected center and get advice and, in some cases, have surgeries performed remotely,” said Siholizwe Mdlalose, MD by Vodacom

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Connectivity is an economic necessity

It is evident that connectivity is key to unlocking broader economic growth across Africa. According to the GSMA Mobile Economy 2020 report, mobile technologies and services generated 9 percent of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa in 2019 – contributing more than US$155 billion in economic value added. The mobile ecosystem also supported nearly 3.8 million jobs (directly and indirectly) and was a major contributor to public sector funding, with $17 billion raised through taxes. By 2024, the contribution of mobile will reach around US$184 billion as countries increasingly benefit from the productivity and efficiency gains that will come from increased use of mobile services.

We need to connect more people to more services

Internet connectivity across Africa remains weak and innovative ways must be found to connect the unconnected and the underserved. The GSMA noted that the mobile market in sub-Saharan Africa will reach several key milestones over the next five years: half a billion mobile subscribers in 2021, 1 billion mobile connections in 2024, and 50 percent subscriber penetration by 2025. These achievements will be underpinned by continued investments by operators in network infrastructure.

To support broader digitization, major infrastructure upgrades will be required, including those in backbone networks and connectivity at the last mile. It is estimated that by 2030 governments, development finance institutions, businesses and investors will need to spend US$100 billion on key ICT infrastructure to achieve universal broadband access – including 250,000 new 4G base stations and 250,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable. And with 5G on the horizon, while not yet at the point of adoption in most African countries, there is no question that a significant task lies ahead.

The digitizing of our continent will not happen overnight. This is a long-term commitment that is only possible through sustainable, robust and authentic collaboration. Partnerships with governments, businesses and organizations at local and international level are an important cornerstone for continued success in digitization. We must maintain a collaborative approach to building a fair, inclusive and sustainable future. Initiatives such as the African Union Commission’s Digital Transformation Strategy and the UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation offer sensible frameworks for how this could move forward.

“The vision of Vodacom Tanzania is to lead Tanzania into the digital age as they transform lives through technology. We stand ready to continue supporting authorities, industry and social sector institutions to, among other things, expand and expand digital offerings, create an enabling environment for rapid digitization and accelerate infrastructure investments. Collaboration will be crucial to advance digitization goals and enable more citizens to reap the benefits of access to our connected economy,” said Sitholizwe.

Inclusive connectivity

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear which Digital connectivity plays a crucial role in enabling smooth functioning of economies, but also revealed a digital divide across Africa. This divide goes beyond connectedness or disconnectedness. It separates those connected to rudimentary services via 2G from those who have access to the breadth of the internet offered by 4G. It separates those who have the digital skills to use broadband from those who don’t. It separates those who can afford permanent connectivity from those who must use workarounds to get online. During the pandemic, an affordable smartphone with a fast and cheap connection was no longer a luxury. It was a lifeline essential to everything from accessing health records to attending school, finding a job to paying bills — not to mention connecting with friends and family.

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Use cases

Digital connectivity enables wider delivery of social services when partnered with the relevant institution or governmental body. For example, Vodacom’s free learning portal (e-fahamu) provides free access to educational content for students at all levels of education from primary to secondary, leveraging its partnership with the Tanzania Institute of Education and the Universal Communication Service Access Fund (UCSAF). to ensure a long range. Another important partnership between the Government of Tanzania and the Vodacom Tanzania Foundation was the joint development and deployment of the m-mama solution in the Sinyanga regions, which resulted in a 38 percent reduction in maternal mortality and a 45 percent reduction in perinatal deaths through the Providing pregnancies, women and children with emergency transport when needed.

In recent years there has also been a rapid increase in technical services being offered to telecommunications users who are directly affect their regional activities. Vodacom has expanded its international money transfer portfolio to enable transfers from over 200 countries worldwide, making commerce easier and faster. A partnership with M-Pesa-VISA allows subscribers to create virtual debit cards for online transactions. Central banks of EAC countries also agreed on regional financial interoperability and MNOs jumped at the opportunity, with Vodacom being among the first to offer full regional financial interactivity not only on mobile money platforms but also for banks. This immediately made East African trade more convenient and inclusive.

Vodacom Tanzania facilitates microcredit for its users through the M-Pesa platform and the informal economy thrives by providing micro and Enabling small businesses to sell their wares online. Digital connectivity will be used to connect farmers, who represent a significant base of the Tanzanian economy, with vital information about weather, inputs, markets as well as access to financial resources. This enables the farmer to maximize yields and income as well as eliminate sales bottlenecks caused by lack of information.

These are all aspects of technical services that have direct implications on the local economy and thus on the region. A strong local economy will make this country more attractive to invest in, and it will also be a better trading partner for the rest of the bloc, and, as the saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” which is good for a country in the Grouping will benefit everyone.