Podcast & blog: The collaborative road to innovation, in Africa
For the first time, the 2023 e-Governance Conference is set to feature an all-African panel showcasing case studies from the continent. Exactly: both moderator and speakers will present examples of inter-sector cooperation from Namibia, Uganda, and the West African region. Collaborative partnerships for digital policy implementation are core to their experience, and there we stand to learn from them.
The African Union – European Union (AU-EU) Digital for Development (D4D) Hub is giving the floor to e-governance practitioners from a large and diverse continent. Helena Lepp, Digitalization Expert at the AU-EU D4D Hub, and Koffi Fabrice Djossou, Senior Programme Manager at the Western African Development Bank, join us in this podcast episode for a preview of the session – a long time coming one.
Thirty projects and activities setting to shape digital roads
In the past years of showcasing digital transformation projects worldwide, e-Governance Academy has always made space for African practitioners to shine light on what countries are doing to close the digital gap. And the AU-EU D4D Hub is supporting governments to do just that – embark on transformative journeys of digital development.
“The project is funded by the EU and implemented by eight European organizations, which the e-Governance Academy is part of. We provide three kinds of services – demand-driven technical assistance, knowledge sharing, and the facilitation of multi-stakeholder dialogues,” Lepp begins with. “In the two-year lifespan of the project so far, around 30 activities have been laid out in more than ten African countries.” But can funding and technological availability just be there, in an uncoordinated framework?
“Digital innovation alone does not bring about social change. At the policy level, for example, the public sector needs diverse perspectives from others such as the private sector, civil society organizations, academia, and even citizens directly. The goal is to jointly design and implement effective digital policies that actually bring more sustainable and inclusive change,” Lepp says.
Building bridges across the continent, sharing lessons learned
International organizations in Africa are, by all means, already playing a role in achieving just that. As the Western African Development Bank among others – which, Djossou explains, “operates with the mission to have a sustainable impact on the integration and structural transformation of Western African economies.” The organization specifically focuses on the French-speaking countries in the area: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.
“With such mission, the Bank contributes to increasing regional economic integration, and bringing balanced development to our member states. And we do it by supporting development through financing and investments, for nearly 1300 projects so far.” The digital sphere, of course, could not possibly fall out of their scope of work and support. “We are involved in various projects in the region, such as a Smart Village initiative for social inclusion, feasibility studies, or as well a project to connect schools in three of our Member States that are landlocked countries.”
“Africa is a very diverse continent. What is available in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, simply may not be running or fit-for-use elsewhere. Internet penetration and connectivity in some regions are still a problem. This panel serves as an opportunity to listen and let us share our experiences, so to learn from other regions and formulate an adequate value proposition for Africa,” Djossou says.
What collaborative digital development means for African countries
In essence, it means to follow on the path that has shaped the Internet itself. In practice, it means to unlock the knowledge and capacity of different sectors of society and the economy, to tackle existing divides. “Looking at Internet as infrastructure, we see how it has been built as a multistakeholder participatory process – one that includes governments, the private sector, civil society. On the role of governments, I believe it is important to put in place policies that attract investors, while also creating a well-calibrated regulatory framework, and enabling an environment where sustainable investment takes place within the digital ecosystem,” Djossou points out.
According to Djossou, it is extremely important to go through a multistakeholder participatory process that can foster inclusion. “As we speak, even if digitalization is not widespread in Africa, there are countries where governments, civil society, the private sector, and the research community, do actively play their role. Let’s not forget, though, that only 30% of Africans use the Internet – the rest is left out of a connected world, of a knowledge economy. Online tools are accessible, but only to people who are able to go online.”
The urge for more digital development is clear, as it can bring distributed opportunities to a continent both rapidly growing in demographic terms, and diverse as all others from country to country. “We need to adapt our digital economy strategies, and let me say even national visions, to the population’s needs. So we must work to cut across the digital divide that prevents the continent from taking full advantage of the digital revolution, and leapfrog obstacles to social development,” Djossou highlights.
We are talking about big endeavours here. Big enough, despite the presence of virtuous examples, to create an understanding that institutions don’t have to do it all on their own. “No one can achieve this alone. Not the Western African Development Bank, not governments, not the private sector. Collaboration and inclusion mean commitment. One to a connected and innovative Africa, where every citizen has the possibility to fully participate in a world economy driven by digitalization and knowledge,” he concludes.
Interested to learn about collaborative innovation? Join Koffi Fabrice Djossou, Emma Inamutila Theofelus, Member of Parliament and Vice Minister of ICT of Namibia, Dr. Aminah Zawedde, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of ICT of Uganda, and Cecilia Maundu, Senior Editor, Kenya National Broadcasting Corporation, in the discussion “Collaborative road to innovation – Africa case studies” at the e-Governance Conference on 30 May 16:00-16:50. And whether in person or online, join us to build better and inclusive digital societies, together.