World Bank to accelerate digital inclusion for 180m people across eastern and Southern Africa

Malawi, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are three of eastern and southern Africa that have been earmarked for the first phase of World Bank’s acceleration of digital inclusion targeting 180 million people by 2032.

Victoria Kwakwa, vice-president for the World Bank’s Eastern and Southern Africa region

In a press statement from Washington, USA, the World Bank says the new programme — Inclusive Digitalization in Eastern and Southern Africa (IDEA) — is poised to significantly increase access to the internet and the inclusive use of digitally enabled services and transform the digital landscape in the eastern and southern African countries.

The World Bank emphasises that digitalisation is one of the most potent tools available today to eradicate poverty on a livable planet — yet the eastern and southern African region has the slowest pace of digitalisation globally.

Only 64% of the population of the region is covered by high-speed internet, and just 24% of the population using the internet as of 2023 and to accelerate digitalisation, the World Bank says the region needs more integrated digital markets as digitalization thrives on economies of scale and network effects, often expanding across markets and borders.

The IDEA is a US$2.48 billion financing envelope — financed through the International Development Association (IDA) and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) — that aims to bring together 15 countries and regional economic communities and address common challenges such as limited internet coverage due to infrastructure gaps, low usage due to high cost of data and devices, limited digital skills, and lack of digital identification needed for online transactions.

Victoria Kwakwa, vice-president for the World Bank’s Eastern and Southern Africa region, is quoted as saying “IDEA is a holistic program that will unleash opportunities for hundreds of millions of Africans to actively participate in and contribute to the advancement of the region’s digital economies”.

“This effort underscores the critical importance of public and private sector partnerships in driving sustainable economic growth,” she said, she said of the programme, that will be implemented in phases over an eight-year period and initially target countries that have less than 50% high-speed internet access.

Thus Malawi, Angola and the DRC will participate in the first phase, providing new and enhanced broadband internet access to over 50 million people combined and the World Bank further says additional countries and regional bodies are expected to join in the subsequent phases based on their eligibility and readiness.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) will lead the regional coordination and facilitate the knowledge exchange of experiences and lessons across participating countries.

Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe, COMESA secretary general said: “The IDEA programme will support participating countries and COMESA Member States in enhancing digital infrastructure and skills to foster productive use of digitalisation towards economic growth and inclusive societies — thus paving the way towards increased digital services trade and a vibrant regional digital market.

“Given the rapidly evolving and cross-cutting nature of the sector, COMESA aims to put emphasis on capturing learnings, and results, and sharing practical tools across the region to help countries fully reap the benefits of the digital economy,” Kapwepwe said.

IDEA is structured around three technical pillars focusing on expanding broadband and securing data hosting so that people can access low-cost, reliable and quality internet; deploying interoperable digital public infrastructure and digital safeguards needed to promote trusted and safe use of digital technologies and digitally enabled services.

It is also advancing digitally enabled applications, services and overall capabilities, which can promote productive use of digital technologies and potentially have a high impact on economic and social activities.

The World Bank further says the programme specifically seeks to leverage private sector investment and take advantage of regional economies of scale, encourage the promotion of economic opportunities for women and foster gender equality in the digital landscape, as well as maximize climate co-benefits given the region’s exposure to climate change.

A fourth pillar will focus on project management and capacity building to support implementation, knowledge generation and regional coordination — each pillar offering a range of options, allowing countries to select activities based on their priorities, readiness, underlying enabling environment, and available resources.

IDEA will contribute to sustainable economic growth through long-term cost savings, efficiency, and productivity gains, fueled by greater digital adoption by citizens, businesses, and governments across the region.

Established in 1960, the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) helps the world’s low-income countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve people’s lives.

IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for its 75 client countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Since 1960, IDA has provided US$552 billion to 115 countries and annual commitments have averaged about US$36 billion over the last three years (FY21-FY23), with about 75% going to Africa.

The World Bank Group has a bold vision — to create a world free of poverty on a livable planet. In more than 100 countries, the World Bank Group provides financing, advice, and innovative solutions that improve lives by creating jobs, strengthening economic growth, and confronting the most urgent global development challenges.

The World Bank Group is one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries and it consists of the World Bank, including the International Bank for Reconstruction & Development (IBRD) and the IDA; the International Finance Corporation (IFC); the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA); and the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

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