DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION: How Africa can leverage online data for growth

Thursday July 18 2019


By Benson Mambosho

Africa, home to 1.32 billion people. Today, Africa’s urbanisation is at 43 per cent, 80 per cent have a mobile subscription, and 36 per cent being internet users. A continent doesn’t cease to progress even with considerable economic challenges. From the year 2018, internet growth in the continent is up by +8.7 per cent (38 million) while the growth in social media is 25 million (+13 per cent).

The growing and unstoppable influence of thought-provoking online trends in the continent has surpassed conventional means of communication. They are by no means driving forces reshaping public discourse with regards to news trends, debates, forums, and informal chats. They have subdued traditional means of acquiring and disseminating information, their prominence cuts across national boundaries by absorbing alien ideas.

Would one doubt such enormous growth and potential ready to be tapped for more progress?

Globally, social media users stand at 3 billion. As you read this, there are more people signing up new accounts. There are probably five or more trending hashtags – related to real-life events and new developing stories right now. Take a closer look; you can sometimes find out what’s going on in your neighbourhood. News on social media travel fast compared to radio, television or newspapers. Here distance is absolutely zero.

What does this mean for Africa? Let’s find out.

It would be able to monitor public sentiments on contemporary matters and adopt viable micro & macro policies. We can survey thousands of online conversations on issues such as climate change, gender, income level, education, health just through keywords and hashtags. Differences in opinion shouldn’t alienate people from its leaders. Such diversity helps us to be proactive and take unprecedented actions.


For instance, estimated at 500 million tweets every day, Twitter offers an opportunity of acquiring raw data. Institutions and governments would be able to use this data sustainably as defined by the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development (IEAG). Can you imagine what and how much is being discussed in a day? Wouldn’t we want to know exactly what has been mentioned, when and why?

Africa would be able to implement and facilitate enhanced production techniques and develop advanced e-skills. Consequently, things will be done faster by economists, practitioners, and policymakers - embracing new modern tools of communication and refrain from conventional methods such as; print and unnecessary trips that are appalling to taxpayers. We would also be saving the continent from deforestation by limiting paper production.

Think for a minute, how long and costly it is from Dar es Salaam to Cairo? And how much does it require you to go live on your social media channel? Truth is, with just a click you can kick start a new business or investment opportunity. Don’t you think so?

Eventually, governments, lobbyists and researchers need to embark on comprehensive and integrative e-participation by engaging with citizens directly. Turning a blind eye can make matters worse – interaction should be fluid and quick. It will foster decentralization and make policy implementation much more effective. This will scale up a vibrant and inclusive digital economy.

Digital proliferation should be parallel to the expansion of ICT infrastructures that enable new users entering the digital realm. It also requires supportive and ‘open governance’ which fosters direct engagement with respective stakeholders. Building this resilient digital society, ambitious plans are needed to close the gap between the internet and non-internet users. Moreover, the interplay of institutions would also accelerate this transformation by educating people about how they can best use modern tools into solving their daily challenges. The quest requires mutual commitment and the full realisation of desired outcomes amongst member and non-member states.

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