Africa, a sprawling landscape of sweeping savannas, tropical forests, breathtaking beaches, and picturesque sunrises, is poised at the brink of a profound transformation. Through its interaction with the rest of the world and the establishment of economic, cultural, and social relations across international boundaries, it has evolved to become an active participant in the current phase of digital globalization.
Home to the fastest-growing economies in the world, Africa is ready to carry its progress forward, not least through technological development, innovation, and a young and ambitious workforce. As with any progress, the right mindset is, however, crucial to driving this transformation ahead.
Africa is a 12 million-square-mile continent with a collective population of 1.2 billion people. The 54 independent countries forming the African continent share, albeit to a different extent, a common history of colonialism and oppression, setting them back decades in terms of economic development. However, the African countries are progressing through a common timeline of independence, industrial reforms, and consistent improvement in the quality of life.
According to the World Bank, Africa is home to six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies – Ghana, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Senegal and Tanzania – and is expected to grow by more than 4 percent in 2020. Despite some undeniable infrastructural and political challenges, such a high level of growth is a clear testament to the fact that Africa’s economy is consistently catching up.
The concept of Africa as a hub of economic growth, trade, and digitalization can only be sustainable through collective efforts and structural reforms. If managed properly, the vast investment opportunities across the continent have the potential to establish Africa as a pioneer of the digital age. As the costs of accessing technology become affordable, governments are more capable of investing in the infrastructure required to advance technological development.
The impact of the digital transformation in Africa could undoubtedly be more vital than any political or economic reform, and could significantly and permanently change the lives of its people. While job creation and economic growth are one aspect, digitalization promotes a more inclusive economy, contributes to increased citizen participation, and gives the people the opportunity to express themselves and to play a more active role in the progress and development of their homeland.
The digital transformation offers the ability to communicate the stories and values of the people and cultures of Africa to the rest of the world and provides the opportunity to reshape the African narrative. Africa is much more than its lush lands, colorful tribes, and magnificent animals and by all means, more than the sizeable no-go zone of civil war, corruption, and poverty, often portrayed by the media.
The African narrative lies in the stories of its people, their values, their resilience, and their perseverance in the face of unrest. While writers like Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie have narrated the spirit, culture, and lifestyle of Africa to the world, digitalization gives a voice to all people and enables them to change the continent’s image dominated by stereotypes, into one which is closer to reality, the people’s reality.
It is a well-known fact that Africa was the beginning of all humankind as we know it. It is home to ancient, rich, and elaborate cultures with a wealth of technical knowledge in various areas. Africa is home to the world’s earliest record of human technological achievement—the oldest stone tools in the world were found in eastern Africa, and later evidence for tool production and utilization was located across the Sub-Saharan region.
Throughout the course of history, Africans have actively contributed to scientific advancements. One and perhaps the best example of the last century is Nigerian scientist Dr. Philip Emeagwali, also known as “Bill Gates of Africa”, who invented the world’s fastest computer and is often referred to as the father of the internet. Coming from modest financial circumstances, his success is an example of how the modern-day era can offer tremendous opportunities for Africa to build its own technological legacy.
Compared to the economic growth of other regions, the rise of the African economies is faster but more complex. Approximately one-third of the African countries have an annual GDP rise of more than 6%, thus making Africa the second-fastest continent in economic growth after Asia.
When supplied with the necessary resources and governed by principles of social, economic and environmental sustainability, Africa has the potential to achieve growth beyond all expectations. On the other hand, continuing lack of investment in infrastructure, health, education, and technology could further hamper the overall development of the continent.
In order to entirely emerge from its colonial past and political unrest, and to establish itself as a global economy Africa needs to make strategic investments in these areas and open its markets to sustainable investment. Three significant trends are expected to characterize Africa’s development over the coming years.
First of all, Africa has a growing labor force which is primarily comprised of a young population. The continent’s growing demographic is estimated to account for more than half of the world’s population by 2050. Coupled with strategic and sustainable investments in education, research, and training, Africa’s workforce will be expanding in a time when much of the world’s developed workforce is shrinking. This will be an exceedingly valuable asset in an otherwise aging world. In fact, it is estimated that by 2035, Africa will have the world’s largest working-age population of over 1 billion people.
Secondly, the growing urbanization will increase economic efficiency and improve access to health facilities, schools, and business districts. Productivity in the major cities is anticipated to be three times as high as in rural areas, and almost 200 million people are expected to migrate to the cities over the next years. In order to meet the resulting infrastructure needs, it will, however, be crucial to develop a robust program of infrastructure investment and capacity management.
Thirdly, increasing technological innovation will massively benefit all African economies. Digitalization leads to GDP growth, job creation and enhanced efficiency of services, which in turn results in greater cost reduction. In a business context, a robust digital framework paves the way for economic progress and development. In addition, it creates a market for technology-based careers and enables people to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.
In order to promote Africa’s progress as a continent that offers opportunities for future growth and economic development, it is therefore essential that all three of the before-mentioned aspects, namely education, infrastructure, and digitalization, are put at the heart of its development strategy. In combination with the fast economic growth, the untapped market potential, and the increasing consumer base, Africa will not only present itself as the leading frontier market for private and institutional investors but also as the unexpected winner of the digital age.
The “forgotten continent” is catching up.
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