Digital Economy and Start-Up Nations: Africa’s Readiness For A Digital Revolution.

Political will is critical for the digital revolution taking place in Africa and the Caribbean.

Laurent Lamothe

Towards the end of 2019, global thought leader, technology entrepreneur and former Prime Minister of Haiti Laurent Lamothe participated in the 12th edition of the MEDays Forum, in Morocco. As a panellist, Lamothe discussed the rise of digital economies and start-up nations, as well as Africa and the Caribbean’s readiness for this kind of digital revolution.

Panellists agreed that to see sustained growth in a digital economy requires political will – this is critical. Governments in both Africa and the Caribbean need to prioritize the ICT sector. Lamothe explained that governments needed a sound digital strategy that would see the implementation of; a legal framework, education programs that upskill the workforce, and more emphasis by governments to digitizing its own services.

A good starting point for governments wanting to embark on digital transformation is to view citizens as customers. The public sector needs to make the citizen experience more user-friendly. Similar to how the private sector puts a focus on customer experience and satisfaction. Getting a licence, applying for an ID or a passport could be as easy as using your phone and downloading an app.

Countries like Estonia, widely regarded as the most advanced digital society in the world, demonstrate that it’s possible to rethink government as a digital platform, and citizens as customers.

Lamothe also emphasised that start-ups are a key component of a digital ecosystem. Young bright entrepreneurs need to be nurtured because they are job creators, innovators and problem solvers. However for many start-ups attracting investors challenging. Therefore at a policy level governments need to encourage access to finance in both the private and public sector. Setting up youth support funds is a good starting point. Jamaica is stimulating entrepreneurship and boosting small business development by financing universal access to the information superhighway through its Universal Service Fund.

The benefits of a thriving digital economy, that see start-ups succeed cannot be understated. According to a report by the Partech Africa Team during 2018 start-ups in Africa raised US$ 1.163 billion in equity funding, a 108% YoY Growth. Which confirms the growing attractiveness of African entrepreneurs, their ability to transform the continent into a global powerhouse and their increasing influence on the emerging market.”

However, as important as political will is, implementing and sustaining a digital Economy as well as supporting start-ups is not cheap and needs funding. Lamothe believes that this is where Innovative Finance provides a good solution that will assist governments in opening up new revenue streams. Innovative Finance gives government financial sovereignty, it does not incur debt, there is little impact on the local users and service providers, and a great number of untapped resources can be mobilised in this way. Micro-contributions on enormous volumes of transactions, aggregated, make a mega difference.

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