UNCTAD eWeek 2023 | Africa and the Digital Divide: Perspectives and Policies for catch up

Bridging the digital divide, fortifying infrastructure, fostering inclusive policies, and recalibrating trade agreements to suit African contexts stand as pivotal strategies.

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Africa’s digital landscape stands at a pivotal juncture, marked by promising advancements and lingering challenges. The session ‘Africa and the Digital Divide: Perspectives and Policies for catch up‘ explored the trajectory, hurdles, and necessary strategies for fostering robust digital development across the continent.

1. E-commerce Advancements and Persisting Challenges Africa Kiiza highlighted the burgeoning e-commerce revenue, indicating a growing acceptance of online marketplaces. However, challenges loom large, notably the scarcity of data centers and the imperative need to bolster digital infrastructure. Improving internet accessibility emerges as a cornerstone for driving the digital economy, with a pressing call for responsive data governance and inclusive e-commerce policies.

2. Bridging the Digital Divide: Progress and Impeding Policy Measures Wullo Sylvester Bagooro accentuated the strides made in bridging the digital divide, citing examples from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa. Despite this progress, concerns linger over potential policy measures that might hinder further advancements. Africa’s potential role in not just being affected by but contributing to the global digital divide was also underscored.


3. Gaps in Legal Frameworks and Uneven Digital Transformation Herbert Kafeero shed light on the existing gaps in legal frameworks, with only a fraction of African countries equipped with adequate consumer protection laws for e-commerce. The persistent digital divide, particularly among women, and the limited legal framework for digital transactions underscore the uneven pace of digital transformation across the continent. Collaboration among various stakeholders emerges as crucial to surmounting these challenges.

4. Repercussions of Trade Rules on Digital Industrialization Naidu Vahini delved into the ramifications of prevailing digital trade rules, pointing out a perceived bias that doesn’t support domestic e-commerce in Africa. Concerns were raised about trade agreements potentially influencing Africa’s creative industry, highlighting the need for policy space within trade rules. Criticism surfaced regarding the adequacy of cross-border data transfer provisions and their alignment with African needs, emphasizing the need for a deeper understanding of data handling in trade agreements.

5. Urgent Need for Implementation, Strategic Engagement, and Innovation All speakers unanimously stressed the urgent need for implementation of existing policy instruments, such as Agenda 2063, to bridge the gap between their existence and practical application. They highlighted the imperative for strategic engagement in multilateral platforms, advocating for stronger representation in global discussions to safeguard African interests. Additionally, innovation and entrepreneurship were pinpointed as fundamental elements in reducing dependencies and enhancing Africa’s role as both producer and consumer in the global digital economy.

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