November 09, 2020

Driving digital inclusion: Can the digital economy decrease Africa’s inequality?

By Tonny Tugee, Managing Director, SEACOM East and North East Africa

As our nascent digital economy emerges, we have seen signs that enormous possibilities exist for it to reduce the many divides in our society.  

However, if left unchecked, the digital economy could also increase the gap that’s already in place. As the need for digital inclusion increases, the deployment of newer and more effective forms of communication and digital infrastructure are crucial. 

Digital inclusion in a changing world

Lockdowns across the globe have certainly accelerated digital transformation as the work-from-home movement, e-commerce, and digitalisation have become commonplace. For some, only an Internet connection and Internet-ready device are needed to get an education, access healthcare, and do their job. Some businesses have adapted, using the cloud to streamline operations and cull unnecessary processes to facilitate remote working, reduce overhead costs, and serve customers better

But for others who have been excluded from the digital economy, the pandemic has left them worse off than before. Unable to get online and join their more connected classmates virtually, many children will be left to play catch-up academically. Workers who were not afforded the luxury of being able to work from home have had to make a difficult choice: stay at home without an income or go to work and risk infection. 

A digital divide

Because Africa has the world’s lowest Internet penetration at 42%, around 800 million people on the continent are unable to benefit from the digital economy. With more than half of Africans living an Internet-free life, we run the risk of leaving them further behind in our pursuit of a digital economy. 

Digital jobs may be available, but they are far more likely to be filled by workers with better access to technology and infrastructure, thereby worsening inequality. The first step to growing an inclusive digital economy and decreasing inequality is to give everyone the tools they need to access it. That’s why SEACOM is passionate about expanding Internet infrastructure across the continent.

Public-private partnerships promote digital inclusion

Private organisations have the skills and infrastructure capabilities to assist governments in building and maintaining inclusive digital networks. Public funding is hard to come by, and as much as governments want to implement a large-scale digital rollout within the country, they simply lack the ability to do so. This is where private entities come into play. 

The private sector needs to increase not only the public’s ability to benefit from online resources, but also give government the tools they need to digitise the economy. By promoting public-private partnerships, Africa has the chance to stand out in an ever-evolving digital world. 

Bridging the gap requires investment 

Companies that are invested in the future of Africa should take it upon themselves to build partnerships that will improve digital inclusion. As one of these companies, SEACOM has engaged in projects that will supply reduced-cost Internet to rural and excluded communities. SEACOM’s infrastructure solutions also help connect businesses to Africa’s most extensive ICT data infrastructure, connecting more people to the digital economy. Contact us, and together we can help to bridge the digital divide.