Digital Africa will have to accelerate to be part of the post-Covid world

The Portulans Institute, an independent research institute, recently published the Network Readiness Index Report. Gathering numerous data and a ranking presenting countries by their readiness to face the future using the technology, this report also highlights Africa’s lateness in this sector despite the recent progress.


“The Covid sanitary crisis showed how digital technologies could help us be better organized and resilient when facing unprecedented challenges. However, the economic and social crisis that will follow has hardly started to be felt. To face the threats of massive unemployment and growing inequalities, digital transformation is now an urgent obligation.” As Bruno Lanvin, co-founder of Portulans and co-author of the Network Readiness Index Report, the digital transformation is now necessary.

The report, published recently, ranks countries according to their ability to face future digital challenges. In order to achieve that, the two searchers in charge of the study, Soumitra Dutta and Bruno Lanvin developed an index, the NRI resting on four fundamental dimensions: technology, people, governance, and impact. “This holistic approach means that the NRI covers issues ranging from future technologies such as AI and Internet of Things (IoT) to the role of digital transformation in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” they explain.

Africa is late despite major steps

The ranking is dominated, and without any surprises, by rich countries. We can see that 17 of the top 25 countries are in Europe. We also can see that Africa is late. Despite mobile telephony and internet coverages improving every day, technological innovations multiplying, and despite politicians trying in numerous countries to transform this economy into the strength of the continent, Africa only counts one country in the first half of the ranking, Mauritius 61st, and eight countries in the top 100 over 134. Worst, except for Yemen, the 20 last positions are occupied by African countries. “Even though there is a lot of celebration around how far Africa has come, in terms of digitization, there still is a lot more that needs to be done, if we really want to deliver an inclusive Africa,” Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said.

An observation shared by the report’s authors, but they also highlight progress in the governance, one of the main factors of the study, that concerns cybersecurity, regulations, inclusion… “For other economies, trust and security need to be at the core of digital transformation strategies to allow them to generate their full expected benefits, be it in electronic transactions (including e-commerce) or in broader areas such as education (certification, grading),” the report says.

“A truly planetary digital transformation would be one that strives to end poverty and inequality”

But authors don’t forget the three other factors: technology (prices, 4G coverage, internet in school, app development), people (users, companies using the internet and technologic tools, e-government) and impact (economical, life quality, contribution of technologies in health or education sectors). Countries well ranked are leading in all categories. “This underlines the importance of adopting a multi-dimensional approach in improving network readiness and indicates that economies should take steps to address a broad range of issues—from access to technology through matters of trust to the application of digital technologies in healthcare—rather than focusing on just a few policy areas.” So for Africa, it will be a real challenge to catch up, and even more when we know that each and every one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 “can be accelerated through the adequate use of digital technology. A truly planetary digital transformation would be one that strives to end poverty and inequality, tackle climate change and environmental degradation, and strive for peace and justice.” A whole program for this post-Covid era.


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