Government authorities have a key role to play in facilitating the emergence of a digital economy. Their mission does not only entail adopting and enforcing appropriate and effective regulations but also ensuring that existing infrastructure is leveraged for optimal utilization.
Africa has witnessed the emergence of a mobile telephony market which went from zero to over a billion phones in just over two decades. The mobile industry requires tight regulation because of the use of a scarce resource – spectrum. The role of Government has thus, of necessity, been important in the growth of this industry. The huge fine imposed on MTN Nigeria a few years ago demonstrates how important it is for regulation to be continuously and effectively enforced to ensure that consumers are protected. There is a fine balance between protecting consumers and protecting the companies providing the service.
The next decade will see the emergence of a robust hi-tech infrastructure that can deliver World Class digital services – increasingly being sought by discerning customers. Massive investments have already gone into submarine cables delivering affordable data connectivity to Africa. In parallel there has been substantial investment by terrestrial backbone providers across Africa both within and between the major urban areas where the most discerning customers reside.
During the next decade we will see investment in the last piece of the digital infrastructure puzzle that is sorely lacking today. These are – data centres. The foundation of the digital economy. These will be built across the continent as regulations demand data sovereignty and customers demand reduced latency.
Data centres are a sine qua non for the delivery of the digital economy. Ergo Governments should encourage investment in data centres. Only once these new data centres are fully integrated into the local and continental digital infrastructure can the digital economy come into full force and effect. Governments should play a leading role in demonstrating the utility of the digital economy through the implementation of e-Government. Countries
which have relatively advanced digital infrastructures such as Kenya, South Africa, Morocco and Nigeria – should lead the way.
They can champion the Continent in the adoption of the cutting edge technologies which are taking root across the advanced economies. These include : Block Chain, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, the Internet of Things, Smart Cities, Robotics and even, yes, cryptocurrencies. There are Pan African projects in the making which seek to facilitate these requirements – such as Smart Africa – an ITU/AU initiative – which aims to “ put ICT at the center of our national socio-economic development agenda. “ It seeks to use five pillars as the way to a successful digital future – being Policy, Access, e-Government, Private Sector/Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development.
These all require active Government involvement but with the Private sector playing a pivotal role by providing much of the investment capital, technology and skills to manifest an effective digital economy. Governments’ role will be crucial in enabling the ‘invisible hand ‘ of the market to perform its magic.