As a part of the Debating Africa-Europe series, participants debated about the following topic: “A new era of digital cooperation: Embracing Africa and Europe’s 4th industrial revolution.”
The debaters for this edition were Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, African Union Commissioner of Infrastructure, Energy, ICT and Tourism, Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, and Lacina Koné, General Director and CEO of Smart Africa. Dharmendra Kanani, Director of Insight at Friends of Europe, moderated the presentation.
At the start of the discussion, the debaters expressed the importance of a transition to digitalization, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. The global crisis impacted all countries, obliging them to do everything from home. This had a positive impact on the digitalization vision since it made people around the world grow accustomed to the digital era, where nearly everything can be managed online.
Dr. Amani expressed her confidence in Africa’s ability to shift to the all-digital phase before the assigned date, which is 2030. She believes in the creativity of African youth, who are always confronting challenges with brilliant ideas even though they may lack resources. However, she stated that the connectivity and internet coverage problems as well as the expensive prices of the internet will be the biggest challenges that Africa will continue to face.
One-third of Africa is connected to the internet while the remaining two-thirds are not able to –either because of the expensive costs of internet and digital devices or because the area where they live is not included in the internet coverage network. This is a difficulty that they cannot overcome by themselves. All these reasons state that the energy infrastructure in Africa is the biggest challenge, but these challenges will make the change possible, as they are the driving force that encourages youth to be more creative.
Participants from around the world are attending the Africa-EU Debate.
Mr. Thierry Breton agreed with Dr. Amani, adding that democratic access to the internet is a must that will encourage people to accept this digital transition. He also suggested that creating partnerships with internet providers will help reduce the problem of connectivity, as will encouraging youth by boosting the African economy. Mr. Breton clearly stated that there should be an implementation of the ideas gathered so far to encourage the citizens to adopt this change and embrace it.
Mr. Lacina Koné stated that his company’s main focus is to transform Africa into a Smart Unit, and to achieve this, they will have to close the user gap on the continent. While 71 percent of the continent has internet coverage, only 23 percent of those with access are connected. The price of internet and smart devices keeps the remaining 48 percent from being able to access the network. Meanwhile, 29 percent of the continent remains without internet coverage. By providing solutions to these issues, countries can increase the percentage of connectivity, which is a huge step toward digitalization.
At the end of the debate, all the speakers agreed that taking concrete actions is what Africa needs the most. The youth of the continent are willing to contribute to the transition toward digitalization. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has already established a concept of mobility around the world, the transition will be smooth and organized.
Technology for empowerment
The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) recently conducted a qualitative survey with women from villages in the Al Haouz province as well as urban women living in Marrakech that support this argument. The discussion focused on potential gaps in the level of awareness of Morocco’s family code and human rights. The results showed that lack of internet connection greatly decreased the level of awareness, particularly in rural areas. Women lack access to information due to no cellular, radio, or television reception, affecting their knowledge about their own rights.
Another major issue the women issued was education. All groups mentioned illiteracy due to lack of schooling and/or knowledge of the Arabic language as a core obstacle preventing knowledge of their rights. They also listed social reasons, as there is a clash between the national law and local traditions, which are widely more respected. Access to better technology and the internet could ease these other barriers.
HAF aims to strengthen women as rights holders by providing tools to advocate and act on their needs and goals. Through the Imagine Women’s Empowerment Workshop, HAF aims to strengthen women as rights holders by providing tools to advocate and act on their needs and goals.