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  • Writer's pictureUgochi Obidiegwu

Leveraging Public Policy to Foster Innovation among African Youths in the Digital Technology Sector

Updated: Mar 31, 2023


Projections by the United Nations show that the world population will hit 10 billion people by 2055. Approximately 95% of this growth will take place in low and middle—income countries. Of this growth, Africa will account for 57% of the growth (1.4 billion people). In particular, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to double by 2050 (that constitutes a 99% increase). Almost 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent.

According to the GSMA 2021 Mobile Economy report on Sub-Saharan Africa, 495 million people subscribed to mobile services by the end of 2020. This represents about 46% of the population, a 20 million increase compared to 2019. This number is projected to rise to 615 million by 2025 which represents about 50% of the population. A significant proportion of these numbers are youths. A tech revolution is currently underway with Lagos, Nairobi, and Cape Town leading the way in hosting incubators, innovation hubs, accelerators, etc. With such staggering data, it benefits African governments to support the digital technology sector because it will stimulate the entire economy by extension.


That “future of work” that has been the subject of several conversations is now here. It is no longer far into the future as has been wrongfully assumed in this part of the world. COVID-19 hastened that process. Almost everyone had to learn to use several digital tools for survival and information. The most popular was Zoom as it was used for diverse events from meetings to bridal showers to weddings and birthdays connecting people across the world even in a lockdown.


The digital technology sector is broad and this can be optimized for our benefit. It encompasses areas such as cloud computing, blockchain, smart home technology, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, advanced coding, etc. These areas will require both software and hardware along the value chain to ensure the efficiency of the solutions created. Herein lies our advantage because we have the burst of youth — a combination of millennials and GenZ who are digital natives. This means we can produce home-grown solutions across these areas and break existing monopolies.


Think about this for a second, what if we had other recognized and reputable solutions to cloud computing asides from the “big ones” used by almost everyone worldwide? What if African youths developed more payment solutions like Paystack and M-Pesa which could take away forever the payment challenges experienced across the continent? What if we had more businesses leveraging technology to boost efficiency and go exponential like LifeBank which leverages technology and logistics to deliver blood across Nigeria? What if we had our own home-grown factories building the internet infrastructure and equipment used for tech solutions on the continent? This would mean that across the value chain, we become repositioned as builders and not just consumers of digital technology. There is no better time than now to leverage the youthfulness of the population to do a thorough internal job for the development of the continent.


Again, imagine for a second that the answers to these questions were a reality, it would lead to widespread Intra and intercontinental trade. This would boost the economy because as money trickles into the pockets of individuals and households, it flows into other sectors. With a higher purchasing power, people can pay for more goods and services, they can start more businesses, can invest in the businesses of others, and they can make tangible contributions in their communities and this improves the sources of livelihood across different income groups by extension. In the past, African countries have relied on the export of their raw materials for growth and ended up purchasing them in the form of finished products at higher costs. Integrating digital technology in the growth plans of African countries and repositioning as producers in this space will go a long way to boost the economy.


Therefore, there is a huge opportunity for the African continent to push the digital technology sector if these new realities can be included in public policy across different countries. Imagine a situation where different African countries integrated the following components:

  1. Placement of a premium on highly talented youths in the digital technology space of each African country. Integrating them into different sectors of the economy both in public and private institutions and making the environment conducive for their brilliance to thrive. This is really important because if African youths are not engaged in their countries or continent, someone else would poach them to build their own economies. It is happening already and we need to reverse the trend in favor of the continent.

  2. Provision of basic infrastructure to reduce the cost of doing business for young people bearing in mind that they are already working on limited financial resources. Affordable and constant electricity, security, and efficient transportation should be a necessity. This ensures they can focus on building as opposed to struggling to make ends meet.

  3. Provision of affordable and accessible internet infrastructure for young people. This will reduce dependence on expensive and limited mobile data internet connections in favor of cheaper and unlimited options (fiber optic, etc.) by attracting such players to invest in the sector. During the COVID-19 lockdown, some people from low-income families had to choose between spending on data and spending on basic needs. This should never be the case. Internet connectivity should be as accessible as the air we breathe considering that the world has evolved.

  4. Creation of an Internet City like Dubai in each country where young innovators can register for a small fee and access high-grade facilities for business operations. Where the African countries are really small, neighboring countries can pull resources together and host them in one city to benefit the citizens of all contributing countries. This will greatly reduce the cost of running digital technology businesses.

  5. Creation of a market for digital technology products will be created so that there is a demand for the supply. The government can sensitize the populace about this by using the products in their own operations, encouraging businesses to do the same, and showcasing these solutions through the media and other sensitization methods in order to encourage citizens and visitors to use these tech products.

  6. Creation of a special visa that attracts top talent from all over and ease of entry to fellow Africans without a visa.

If African countries integrated these components into their public policy, there will be a ripple effect of economic growth across the continent. It will reposition the continent as the cradle of social innovation and we will provide solutions for the globe. It will also positively engage our youths who would see that they do not need to run away from their countries but can be a part of its development.

(This article was originally written in 2020 for publication. New data sources have been added in this version)







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