With Africa’s share of the global workforce projected to become the largest in the world by 2100, it is critical for African countries to increase the uptake of digital technologies* to drive employment growth for the more than 22 million Africans joining the workforce each year, emphasizes a new report released today.
The “Digital Africa: Technological Transformation for Jobs” report provides a comprehensive analysis of how digital technologies can enable economic transformation and boost jobs in the region. It also sheds light on how policy and regulatory reforms can widen the availability and increase usage of digital technologies.
Of all the regions in the world, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) displays the largest gap between the availability of digital infrastructure and people’s actual usage. On average across countries in SSA, 84 per cent of a given country’s population had at least some level of 3G mobile internet availability and 63 per cent had some level of 4G mobile internet services, but only 22 per cent were using mobile internet services at the end of 2021, according to numbers collected by the Global System for Mobile Communications Association using a methodology focused on unique subscribers. Usage rates range from a low of 6% in South Sudan to 53 per cent in South Africa, underscoring the heterogeneity of average use and the need for differentiated policy reforms across countries.
“The minimal usage of mobile internet is a lost opportunity for inclusive growth in Africa,” said Andrew Dabalen, World Bank Chief Economist for Africa. “Closing the uptake gap would increase the continent’s potential to create jobs for its growing population and boost economic recovery in a highly digitalized world.”
Even though technology and innovation are known to drive long-term economic growth and can lead to much-needed modernization in economic activities across agriculture, manufacturing and services, the digital divide continues to grow between large formal and micro-sized informal enterprises, between young men- and older women-owned enterprises, and between richer, urban, and more educated households and poorer, rural, and less educated households. Only two per cent of micro-sized firms owned by young women and eight per cent of micro-firms owned by young men use a computer.
The report highlights evidence that internet availability has a positive impact on creating jobs and reducing poverty in African countries. For example, in Nigeria, labor force participation and wage employment increased by three and one percentage points, respectively, after three or more years of exposure in areas with internet availability. Job estimates for Tanzania found that working-age individuals living in areas with internet availability witnessed increases of eight percentage points in labor force participation and 4 percentage points in wage employment, after three years of exposure. Moreover, the proportion of households falling below the national basic need poverty line dropped by seven percentage points.
“To transform internet availability into productive usage and job growth, the region needs affordable access, digital skills and digital technologies that meet the needs of Africans,” said