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Opinion

Digital Inequality is a Major Threat to Africa’s Economic Future

By Sean Riley, CEO of Ad Dynamo by Aleph

It’s no secret that Africa suffers from incredibly high levels of economic inequality, with South Africa taking the top spot on a global level. In terms of wealth inequality, seven in ten of the world’s most unequal countries are located in Africa. Moreover, Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank Country Director for Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa points out that despite many African countries “undertaking some of the most redistributive spending in the world, particularly on education and health, inequality remains extremely high”. This suggests that in order for the continent’s population to thrive economically in the future, it must also address digital inequality.

While many articles have been written about the continent’s ability to ‘leapfrog’ stages of economic development, through the likes of cellular technology for instance, this isn’t universally true. Even though cities in some of Africa’s biggest markets embrace 5G, access still remains a major barrier for many.

If Africa is to reach its full potential and secure the economic future that so many believe it is capable of, it is imperative that digital inequality is addressed immediately.

Promising growth, but still room for improvement

There is however, promising growth especially when it comes to internet access. According to Statista, Nigeria is set to add 35 million new users by 2026. In Ghana, World Bank figures show that 58% of the population is now online, with the number of new internet users also increasing by 6% between 2020 and 2021.

Yet, there is still significant room for additional growth. Focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa, upwards of 800 million people are not yet connected to mobile internet. A comparatively small proportion of those people (270 million) are not connected because they do not have the required coverage. However, of greater concern are the 520 million people across the region who could theoretically access the mobile internet but still don’t. This comes down to a number of interconnected reasons, including cost, lack of skills, education, age, and location.

As connectivity becomes cheaper and more ubiquitous, those numbers should organically decrease, presenting some economic benefits on its own, but it won’t be enough to ensure that Africa reaches its full potential.

After all, 50% of the Global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is already digitalised, a percentage that is expected to only increase in the coming years. However, unless the right skills are developed to complement increasing connectivity, and enable the continent to effectively compete in the global digital arena, Africa risks becoming a net consumer in that economy, as organisations and entrepreneurs who fall into the other 50% will benefit.

Wide-scale skills development is needed

In order for Africa to truly reach its digital economic potential, it also needs to address the unequal spread of digital skills across the continent. This is true both for those entering the job market and those looking to become entrepreneurs, for which it is important to remember that a broad range of skills will be increasingly required. Furthermore, those able to develop software, or build and repair digital infrastructure will of course remain sought after, but those who can effectively market businesses to growing online consumers will also be of high importance. According to a study by The International Finance Corporation, 230 million jobs across the continent will in fact require a level of digital skills by 2030, Included in that number are HR, marketing, sales, and operations roles.

Newly online consumers represent a lucrative target audience for businesses around the globe. As such, they are largely targeted via major social platforms including Twitter, Snapchat, and Spotify. Thus, it is also imperative for businesses across Africa to understand how to effectively reach their audience organically and through platform advertisements. This is something we at Ad Dynamo and the wider Aleph Group fundamentally understand, which is why we want to be part of the solution. This is why we recently launched our Digital Ad Expert educational programme in Nigeria and Ghana. The free online programme aims to educate, certify, and connect thousands of people across Africa with the necessary digital skills to succeed in a rapidly digitalising economy.

While some people in these markets have the resources needed to build up these skills on their own, we believe it’s critical to narrow the gap and reduce inequality as much as possible.

Now is the time

Thus, it is time to truly bridge the divide, and close the gaps evident across the African continent, so we can ensure its digital future. Fortunately, there is a growing number of prospects opening up to people in Africa, and with the help of solutions such as those provided by Digital Ad Expert, the opportunity to discover the world of digital marketing, and the potential it holds for you, or your business is unparalleled.

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