African digital economy meeting opens in Addis Ababa

Trade and technology experts from across Africa today met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the first session of the committee on private sector, regional integration, trade, infrastructure, industry and technology organized by a UN agency.

“Digitization is pivotal for Africa firms now than any time before. Although our firms came into the industrial scene rather late, we cannot afford to lag in adapting digitization. Early and meticulous digitization that reinforces innovation is the only path for the private sector to foster trade through product diversifications, high quality and optimized productions,” said Mesganu Arga Moach, state Minister of Trade of Ethiopia, who opened the meeting.

Stressing the need for Africa governments to embrace digital to benefit their citizens and economy, he mentioned the recent deal between the Government of Ethiopia ad China’s eCommerce giant, Alibaba Group.

The organizer of the meeting, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), in the brief of the summit stated that as Africa countries pursue more trade opportunities they will also require a dynamic private sector to promote cohesive approach to address challenges to regional integration and intra-Africa trade.

The value of global digital economy is estimated at more than $11.5 trillion ad is set to rise to more than $23 trillion by 2025, according to the 2019 UNECA report. UNECA believes that with the largest and fastest growing young population in the world, Africa cannot afford to be left behind in adopting the use of digital economy for its economic development and transformation.

“Improving the use of digital economy will have a positive impact on the implementation of important regional initiatives such as the AfCFTA. Similarly the private sector has a critical role to play in exploiting digitization in support of regional integration,”the brief of the Meeting stated.

It further stated that the sector generates an estimated 70% of the continent’s output, approximately two thirds of its investment and 90% of employment. The contribution of the private sector to job creation is seen as one of the most effective ad sustainable strategies for elevating many Africa populations out of poverty.

Currently out of the 54 Africa counties signed the AfCFTA, so far 28 countries have ratified.

With the support from the European Union, Canada, the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) and other partners, the UN Economic Commission has been working with countries to assist them in developing country-specific national AfCFTA implementation strategies.

These strategies will be key in strengthening countries’ priority interests to fully benefit from the AfCFTA, alongside existing regional economic blocs. Currently the ECA is working with about 15 member states on the strategies ad these will be concluded by end of December 2019, according to Stephen Karingi, Director of Regional Integration and Trade Division at UNECA.

“We plan to continue with more countries I 2020,” he said this morning at the opening of a summit entitled, Private sector development and the digital economy in support of regional integration in Africa.

Reports show that the success in the growth of digital economy in Africa over the past 15 years has largely been driven by telecom’s service providers, especially the private operators that dominate the Africa market such as, MTN, Vodafone, Orange, Safaricom, Airtel, among others.