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Investment in digital infrastructure seen enabling survival, devt amid Covid-19

Investment in digital infrastructure has been identified as a pathway for Nigeria and, indeed, Africa to survival and thrive amid the crippling impact of Covid-19 pandemic.

Acquiring the much-needed digital infrastructure and the resulting digital transformation will also enable rapid development across the continent, positively impacting the most vulnerable communities.

“While digital transformation is certainly not a new discussion, the Covid-19 pandemic has abruptly accelerated the need for digital adoption,” Ryno Rijnsburger, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft4Afrika, noted in a statement obtained by BDSUNDAY at the weekend.

He stated that there’s an urgent need to invest in connecting communities and improving service delivery to citizens throughout Africa, pointing out, however, that governments across Africa, and indeed globally, have budgetary restraints that have been exacerbated by the current pandemic.

Digitisation, he added, required significant investments to modernise the government sector and beyond.

Rijnsburger believes that Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) will play a critical role in accelerating digital transformation, saying that Africa’s recovery must be digitally driven. This is because, according to him, the digital economy is the recipe for job creation, spurring innovation, boosting economic growth and supporting long-term competitiveness in the global digital economy.

Highlighting the need for ICT infrastructure for digital transformation to succeed, Rijnsburger said governments alone cannot achieve ambitious targets of bridging the current digital divide. “It will take a strategic and considered set of PPPs to achieve Africa’s ambitions to compete in the digital economy,” he said.

A report by McKinsey & Company on Africa in the wake of Covid-19 suggests that the crisis could be a catalyst to help close the digitisation gap, accelerating digital transformation in sectors as diverse as financial services, retail, education and government.

To unlock digital transformation, the public sector must be brought into the digital age, accelerating the rollout of digital IDs, signatures and registries, as well as implementing digital-friendly policies.

But to positively impact inequality, citizens need access to the internet. There is more work to be done to create equal opportunities for everyone, including improving next-generation connectivity, particularly for rural communities.

The latest Ericsson Mobility report states that mobile data traffic in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to grow by 12 times the current figures by 2025. Mobile broadband subscriptions are predicted to reach 72 percent of mobile subscriptions while LTE subscriptions are set to triple, increasing from 90 million in 2019 to 270 million in 2025.

E-commerce has also been growing quickly such that online retailers in Nigeria, for example, have experienced a doubling of revenue each year since 2010. Despite this progress, most sectors of African societies and economies still lag behind the rest of the world in digitisation.

In 2016, the United Nations declared access to the internet to be a basic human right, yet in 2020, 48 percent of the world’s population lacks consistent access. ICT investment into mobile broadband is a crucial area for development. Internet connectivity across Africa is very low, and there’s a need to use innovative ways to connect the unconnected and the underserved.

Rijnsburger noted that one way to expand digital services is to make use of TV White Space technology (TVWS), explaining that the sustainable nature of this type of spectrum use makes it very cost efficient to implement, which is extremely beneficial for rural, underserved and developing areas.

“With TVWS, people are now able to access the internet for less than 5 percent of the average household income, and projects such as Mawingu in Kenya, and Bluetown in Ghana are making a palpable difference to people’s lives and livelihoods,” he said.

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