Malabo, 23 September 2019 (ECA) - “We produce raw materials here in Central Africa, which are being used to boost the digital economy at the global level,” said Equatorial Guinea’s Minister of Finance, Economy and Planning, Cesar Mba Abogo, as he deplored the fact that the subregion ranks amongst the least productive in the global digital economy.
Speaking at the opening of the 35th session of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts for Central Africa (ICE), which opened on Monday in Malabo, Mr. Abogo emphasized on the need to close the digital gap in Central Africa, arguing that “digital exclusion perpetuates poverty.”
“We should use ICT not only to consume but to produce,” he added.
The five-day meeting was organized by ECA’s Office for Central Africa whose director, Antonio Pedro said the digital economy offers Central Africa an opportunity to industrialize and diversify its economies.
He cited the example of Morocco, which has initiated a vast plan for the digitalization of its agriculture with use of computerized systems designed to optimize yields, forecast droughts, establish soil fertility maps and more.
“These tools have led to improved productivity, traceability, quality, market access, efficient management of inputs and resources, and a 25% reduction in weather-related crop losses, according to a study from IBM research,” said Mr. Pedro.
He also pointed out that the subregion is rich in cobalt, a material needed for the production of electric car batteries, stating “if developed, the electric car value chain could benefit the entire sub-region.”
The ECA director noted, however, that the subregion has the lowest Internet penetration rate in Africa - only 12%. He highlighted the “extremely high cost of internet,” lack of reliable and secure broadband infrastructure, ICT skills gap, lack of funding, and weak legal and institutional framework to support innovative firms, as some of the issues that must be addressed.
Mr. Pedro urged countries to systematically mainstream the digital economy into sectoral policies, notably education, training, R & D, industrialization, agriculture, and services.
It is worthy of note that the ECA in October 2018, established a Centre of Excellence for Digital ID to work with the African Union Commission, Regional Economic (RECs) and member states to provide technical inputs to the discourse on digital ID on the continent, define and shape standards, and provide capacity development.
ICE 2019 is taking place under the theme “Digital Transformations and Economic Diversification in Central Africa: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities.” The session contributes to the operationalization of the Douala Consensus adopted at ICE 2017.
The UN Resident Coordinator for Equatorial Guinea, Mady Biaye, said the meeting’s theme captures the very essence of UN’s principle of leaving no one behind - under the SDGs. He praised Equatorial Guinea for its efforts at increasing access to high-speed internet through its “international fiber-optic network linking the cities of Malabo and Bata, and Kribi in Cameroon.”
The opening ceremony was graced by the mayor of Malabo, Maria Coloma Edjang Bengono, who alluded to the digital economy as a great opportunity to transform Africa’s cities into innovation hubs, creating more jobs for the continent’s youthful population.
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