A new World Bank report says accelerating the use of digital technologies is key to creating productive jobs and boosting economic growth in Africa.
This is contained in a statement issued by the World Bank, a copy of which was obtained by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Tuesday.
The statement said Africa’s share of the global workforce is projected to become the largest in the world by 2100.
It said: “The report, therefore, emphasises that African countries need to increase the uptake of digital technologies to drive employment growth for the over 22 million Africans joining the workforce each year.
“Digital Africa: Technological Transformation for Jobs report provided a comprehensive analysis of how digital technologies can enable economic transformation and boost jobs in the region.
“It also sheds light on how policy and regulatory reforms can widen the availability and increase usage of digital technologies.”
The statement said of all the regions in the world, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) displayed the largest gap between the availability of digital infrastructure and people’s actual usage.
It said on the average, across countries in SSA, 84 per cent and 63 per cent of a given country’s population had at least some level of 3G and 4G mobile internet services.
“However, only 22 per cent of them were using mobile internet services at the end of 2021, according to numbers collected by the Global System for Mobile Communications Association using a methodology focused on unique subscribers.
“Usage rates range from a low of 6 per cent in South Sudan to 53 per cent in South Africa.
“This underscores the heterogeneity of average use and the need for differentiated policy reforms across countries,” the bank added.
The statement quoted Andrew Dabalen, World Bank Chief Economist for Africa as saying, “the minimal usage of mobile internet is a lost opportunity for inclusive growth in Africa.”
Dabalen said, closing the uptake gap would increase the continent’s potential to create jobs for its growing population and boost economic recovery in a highly digitalised world.
According to the statement, only 2 per cent of micro-sized firms owned by young women and 8 per cent of micro-firms owned by young men use a computer.
It said the report highlighted evidence that internet availability had a positive impact on creating jobs and reducing poverty in African countries.
The statement continued: “For example, in Nigeria, labour force participation and wage employment increased by three and one percentage points, respectively, after three or more years of exposure in areas with internet availability.
“Job estimates for Tanzania found that working-age individuals living in areas with internet availability witnessed increases of 8 percentage points in labour force participation.
“There was also an increase of 4 percentage points in wage employment, after three years of exposure. ”
Moreover, it said the proportion of households falling below the national basic need poverty line dropped by 7 percentage points.
Christine Zhenwei Qiang, World Bank Global Director for Digital Development said: “To transform internet availability into productive usage and job growth, the region needs affordable access.
“The region also needs digital skills and digital technologies that meet the needs of Africans. ”
Qiang said continuous sector reforms and targeted public investments that support digital economy foundations and digital uptake could help close the digital divide.
He added: “It can also unleash tremendous potential for more and better jobs for Africa’s growing population.”
The statement said for the 40 per cent of Africans who fell below the global extreme poverty line, the cost of basic mobile data plans was often out of reach.
It said small and medium-sized businesses in Africa also faced more expensive data plans than businesses in other regions.
The statement said to bring down costs, governments should promote competition in the provision of digital infrastructure and reduce operational costs.
It said to boost productive usage, governments should implement policies that support the development of more attractive digital solutions geared to the skills and productive needs people have.
The bank added: “Governments should do this while building broader awareness and education.”
The statement said policies that foster innovation and support digital start-up entrepreneurs were essential to ensure that more Africans use the internet for jobs and learning leading to higher standards of living.
It said: “When digital technologies better meet the needs of people, households and firms, demand for their use will also increase.
“This will make internet expansion more commercially viable, and support a virtuous cycle of technology-led transformation.”
The statement said digital technologies were defined broadly to include digital and data infrastructure, broadband internet, smartphones, tablets, and computers
“Also, a wide range of more specialised productivity-enhancing digital solutions ranging from communications, management upgrading, and worker training to procurement, production, marketing, logistics, and financing.” (NAN)