A rendezvous on Central Africa’s Digital Economy in Malabo

Yaounde/ Malabo, 26 June 2019 (ECA) – The Government of Equatorial Guinea and the Subregional Office for Central Africa of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) are convening the 35th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICE) for Central Africa to debate and propose practical ways through which countries of the subregion can harness the full potential of the digital economy with the view to better responding to their development challenges, including the urgent need to diversify and industrialize. 

The substantive debates and practical sessions of the ICE to be held in Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo, from 23 to 27 September 2019, under the theme “Digital Transformations and Economic Diversification in Central Africa: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities,” will enable senior public service officials, experts, inventors, innovators, researchers and representatives of leading development and academic institutions in attendance to run a health check on the digital economy across Central Africa, seen to be the least performing in the sector on the continent.

Three plenary events have been billed for this year’s rendezvous: A High-Level Dialogue on the Digital Economy in Central Africa to explore the points of view of decision makers; a demonstration hub on experiences and applications of the digital economy; and a special event to analyze the status of Central Africa’s structural transformation focusing on the dimensions of employment, production and society, as captured in the publication Central Africa Regional STEPS Profile.

Figures from the International Telecommunications Union’s (ICU’s) ICT-Eye portal (2017) show that Central Africa has the highest mobile telephony costs on the continent (as high as 0.08 dollars for mobile-to-mobile per second call rate in Chad and Sao Tome and Principe, for instance). It is also the weakest region in terms of overall performance.  Broadband landline telephony penetration is only 0.18% while that of broadband mobile telephony is 22.48%.  Whereas the level of general internet penetration is encouraging at 48.6% against a global average of 62%, the average internet upload and download speed is below 10 megabytes per second.

The delegates will thus, deepen their understanding around the causes of this low performance in terms of access and content and table a comprehensive set of transformations to be made with the objective of fixing the glitches and making digital transformation a nodal point for an industrial surge and economic diversification in Central Africa.

“Development theorists and think tanks across the world agree that technology and innovation are the primary drivers of economic growth today. Central African countries need to put innovation at the centre of their development and ignite the flame of digital innovation in their ecosystem in order to trigger transformations across a broad range of sectors including: governance, education, agriculture, energy, banking and finance, employment, manufacturing, the creative industry, transport and logistics, trade and the digital sector itself  by harnessing opportunities offered by blockchain, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, 3d printing and other innovations,” said Antonio Pedro, Director of the Subregional Office for Central Africa of ECA ahead of the Malabo rendezvous.

“If Central African countries have not been big players in the industrial revolutions of the past, this +intelligent and network era also called the fourth industrial revolution, where digital innovations are associated with broadband to connect everything and skyrocket productivity, is the platinum opportunity to leapfrog all other eras and get on the road to sustainable development. In our theory of change for Central Africa’s economic diversification and structural transformation, we place the digital economy as the game-changer, hence our meeting in Malabo”.

The Director said a comprehensive and well layered strategy, with endorsement from the highest levels of political authorities in the subregion and the buy-in of multiple stakeholders including the private sector, would be needed to invest in and leverage the digital economy for economic transformation, but also to positively deal with the disruptions associated with the expected paradigm shifts in the production and related ecosystems.

As ECA’s Executive Secretary, Ms. Vera Songwe remarked recently, by 2020, Africa’s digital economy will be about US$300 billion – a space for especially young entrepreneurs and women to capitalize on and make the most of the opportunities offered by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Youth and women’s contribution will therefore feature prominently in the ICE debates.

Several estimates indicate that overall the digital economy will grow to 24.3% of global GDP by 2025, up from the 2016 estimates of 15.5% of global GDP (representing US$11.5 trillion).

Within this ecosystem, mobile telephony occupies an important place and is being rapidly leveraged across Africa.  As per ITU, mobile telephony has developed more rapidly than any other technology in history, with the total number of active mobile-broadband subscriptions growing from 268 million in 2007 to over 4.2 billion in 2018 worldwide.

On the eve of the 5G revolution, the question then becomes, who will benefit from these digital transformations? How to make it easier for digital solutions to be deployed widely in Central Africa to boost productivity, increase efficiency in service delivery, reduce costs, connect people and ultimately make the sub-region a dynamic and competitive player in the digital economy would therefore be one of the core tasks of delegates to the Malabo conference.

Further details on the conference can be found here: https://www.uneca.org/ice-ca-35.


Note to editors

Digital transformation generally refers to the unprecedented reshaping of productive activities and services via the use of digital technologies. It permeates sectors of human society and organisations thanks to the use of digital tools which, according to Forbes, are making disruption the norm rather than the exception, in development practice.

From the growing literature on the subject, the digital economy, refers to a wide range of activities emanating from the development of Information and Communication Technologies and directly driving economic growth and employment  through a myriad of sectors including:  e-commerce,  advanced robotics and manufacturing,  computer algorithms and artificial intelligence, precision agriculture, service delivery, cloud computing, big data analytics, software engineering, microelectronics, information and knowledge services, transport and the ubiquitous connectivity to the internet of a plethora of useful objects (the internet of things).




Issued by:

The Sub-Regional Office for Central Africa 

UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)

P.O. Box 14935 Yaounde, Cameroon

Tel: (+237) 222504348 / 222504315 / 222504321

Email: sroca@uneca.org


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