The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami has charged African leaders to be proactive if the continent must record any meaningful progress in digital economic development.
He made this call at the opening ceremony of the maiden edition of the two-day, digital economic regional conference (DERC) organised by the ministry with support from the World Bank today (February 1, 2023) in Abuja.
Welcoming his colleagues from other countries in the sub-region, Pantami said the conference, a convergence of all the ministers of digital economy in West Africa, is aimed at providing an opportunity for the sub-region to discuss the growth and development of their various digital economic sectors, including the gains, challenges and opportunities and, also allow for peer review to identify key performance metrics that can form the foundation for the region’s equivalent of the Digital Economy and Society Index utilised by countries in Europe.
He disclosed that the conference has become imperative because digital inclusion cannot be achieved without collaboration.
Pantami maintained that “no country can do it alone; our strength is in our collaboration and the unity we forged among ourselves,” adding that digital technologies do not respect borders, an axiom the sub-region can leverage for brainstorming and idea-sharing.
While describing the African economic situation as worrisome, Pantami disclosed that the conference will beam a searchlight on the sub-region’s strengths and weaknesses and identify areas in need of development.
The minister, who described the theme of the conference – “Positioning West Africa Digital Economy for the Future” – as very apt, averred that the sub-region and the continent lost out in the first three industrial revolutions which accounted for the continent’s developing and under-developed status.
“The world economy is growing. Countries that prioritise the Fourth Industrial Revolution are the leading economies. If you look at all these countries that are doing well economically, you will discover [that] they prioritised the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
While challenging the continent to be proactive because “that is the only key to achieving a very successful digital economy’’, the minister noted that it is only in the Fourth Industrial Revolution that some African countries are actively involved.
The minister decried that the entire African economy, with a population of almost 1.5 billion, is less than the economy of Japan. “If you look at our economic growth, it is lower than our population growth and, by implication, if care is not taken, poverty will continue to increase in the Africa.
“Our population is very important, particularly if we leverage on the potentials we have. Definitely, we will be able to achieve a lot, particularly, by being very proactive in our approach to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
While quoting the African Development Bank (ADB), the minister described as alarming, the over 420 million unemployed or unemployable youth in the continent, saying it is a time bomb waiting to explode. He added that developing the digital economy sector would ensure abundant opportunities for young persons in the region to leverage.
“This is why we are here to discuss our strength. In the south of West Africa, we have a country that has the largest economy in Africa. Within the West African sub-region, we have the most populous country among us. Within the sub-region, we have the country with the youngest population. These are the things that are driving the economy and, most importantly, the digital economy that we are here to discuss. So, failure is not an option,” he charged.
While thanking the delegates from different West African countries for honouring the invitation, Pantami advised that building on the pedestal the conference has afforded is necessary to promote the digital economy of the sub-region and the region generally. “I do hope that we will continue to expand this conference to cover the entire African continent in the subsequent events to be organised, but starting with this, I think it is indeed a very good idea.”
Day one of the two-day conference supported by the World Bank had in attendance the Nigerian World Bank country director, Mr. Shubham Chaudhuri; Cape Verde’s secretary of state for digital economy, His Excellency, Pedro Lopes; Gambian minister of communications and digital economy, Ousman Bah; Nigerien minister of post and information technology, Mr. Moussa Hassan Basara; Liberian minister of post and telecommunication, Mr. Cooper Kruah; the Senegalese minister of digital economy and telecommunication, Mr. Ndeye Diop.
Other dignitaries at the event were chief executive officers of the Nigerian digital economy sector and their counterparts across the West African sub-region.