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Digital skills and capacity development in Africa: Priorities, policies, and initiatives

Most digital-related policies and strategies adopted by African governments outline goals related to digital capacity development. Governments acknowledge that advanced digital skills are essential in building sustainable digital societies and competitive digital economies. Some aspire to leverage their human talent to become regional or even global leaders in certain digital areas. There are also multiple capacity development initiatives conducted throughout Africa with the engagement of regional and international organisations, as well as the technical community and civil society.

National priorities and policies

A few African countries have dedicated national policies on digital capacity development, while most of them address issues pertaining to capacity development – such as workforce upskilling and digital literacy in primary and higher education – in their various general ICT or sectoral strategies.

Rwanda and South Africa are among the countries that developed dedicated policy and strategy documents. South Africa’s National Digital and Future Skills Strategy also has an international component. It notes that international collaboration with other higher education institutions, research entities, the private sector, and international bodies such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) is essential to build research capacity and ensure that the country is up-to-date when it comes to global developments in digital R&D. The strategy also notes that international best practices, as valuable as they may be, are not always appropriate or applicable to the national context and may not adequately inform national strategy. Therefore, in-depth research and case study analysis is needed for greater accuracy in initiatives to enhance digital skills in South Africa.1Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, South Africa. (2020). National Digital and Future Skills Strategy.

The international component of Rwanda’s National Talent Policy is reflected in the country’s objective to transform Rwanda ‘from a consumer/importer to a producer/exporter of ICTs to the region and global scene’ by setting up an elite IT corps. Other policy objectives include achieving digital literacy for all – both students and the general population – by enhancing digital literacy across all levels of society; building a digitally savvy workforce, through upskilling programmes; and coordination of digital literacy initiatives by formulating standards and providing relevant coordination mechanisms.2Ministry of Youth and ICT, Republic of Rwanda. (2016). National Digital Talent Policy.

As mentioned earlier, the topic of digital capacity development features high in various digital policies and strategies of the African countries. According to Namibia’s National Broadband Policy, access to ICT and the development of ICT-related skills in the younger population are national imperatives in enabling the country’s participation in a competitive global economy. 

Kenya’s National Broadband Strategy is premised on several areas, including capacity building and innovations. Building technical and user capacity, education, and R&D are among the key principles of the strategy and crucial components of a robust digital society. Digital skills are also among the four main pillars of the country’s National Digital Master Plan. The document recognises the shortage of digitally skilled workforce not only in Kenya but also the rest of the region, noting that a country with an excess of these skills has the advantage of supplying the region with the required human capital. The plan is therefore for Kenya to ‘export, in the future, this skilled workforce to serve the region’. The government has also recently launched a programme to train 20 million Kenyans in digital skills.3Ng’ang’a, J. (2022, June 8). ICT Ministry to train 20 million Kenyans on digital skills. Kenya News Agency. The Kenyan National ICT Policy also reflects the country’s ICT leadership aspiration, by noting the desire of the Kenyans to be ‘leaders and innovators in the fourth industrial revolution and so we want to attract and create the best educational institutions in the world’. 

ICT leadership cuts across most countries’ digital policy documents. For instance, one of South Africa broadband policy’s objectives is to develop a strong national skills base so that the country can be a globally competitive knowledge economy, while Ghana Beyond Aid outlines plans to leverage the nation’s abundant human talent to become a leader, at least in Africa, in the digital economy by 2028. The Smart Rwanda Master Plan aims to position Rwanda as a regional ICT hub, enhancing the country’s international position as a knowledge-based middle-income nation. 

Nigeria’s National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy aims to make Nigeria a global outsourcing destination for digital jobs. The strategy also emphasises the need to partner with relevant institutions to promote globally competitive training that focuses on digital technologies. The country’s collaboration with IBM is a practical example of this.4Udegbunam, O. (2020, January 18). Nigerian government signs agreement for digital skills development. Premium Times. Similarly, Ghana’s ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) Policy aims to encourage collaboration between local and international educational institutions to facilitate educational exchange and the promotion of ICT education and training, transfer of technology, and collaboration on R&D. The Smart Rwanda Masterplan mentions the establishment of ICT R&D centres in collaboration with international ICT companies as one of its focus areas.

The Digital Senegal Strategy 2025 sees ‘human capital’ as one of the three fundamental prerequisites for a digital Senegal, along with adequate legal and institutional frameworks and digital trust. Digital skills are also among the seven fundamental pillars of Côte d’Ivoire’s National Digital Development Strategy by 2025. The objective of enhancing digital skills is to be achieved through strengthening professional training and introducing digital technologies in curricula and its generalisation in higher education.

Continental and regional initiatives

At the continental level, the African Union‘s (AU’s) Digital Transformation Strategy proposes the following actions in the area of capacity development:

  • Build capacity among officials on digital development.  
  • Promote the uptake and usage of digital tools.  
  • Strengthen cross-border and regional cooperation on digital infrastructure. 
  • Provide training for citizens and communities.

Building inclusive digital skills and human capacity across different sectors such as judiciary and education is one of the main objectives of the strategy. In addition, the AU aims to put in place a massive online e-skills development programme to provide basic knowledge and skills in online security and privacy to 300 million Africans per year by 2025.

Numerous capacity development projects supported by international organisations, the private sector, the technical community, and civil society organisations are being conducted throughout Africa. One of them is Digital government capacity for Africa, supported by the World Bank, with the aim of strengthening the capacity of the AUC and participating countries to provide public services through adoption of selected digital public sector platforms.5World Bank. (n.d.). Digital Government Capacity for Africa.

The African technical community is also very active in the field of digital capacity development at the continental, regional, and national levels. It adopts different approaches, such as face-to-face and online activities, policy immersion, and other types of support. Some of the most prominent actors are the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC) and the African Network Operators Group (AfNOG), which promote activities aimed at building individual, institutional, and systemic capacities.6Maciel, M. (2020). Sustainable capacity building: Internet governance in Africa – An action plan.

Lastly, schools on internet governance play an important role in capacity development in Africa. Training is typically offered once a year and most schools take place in parallel with the regional or national IGFs. In some cases, the schools are convened by the same groups convening the IGFs. For instance, the West Africa School on Internet Governance (WASIG) is organised by the Secretariat for the West Africa Internet Governance Forum (WAIGF) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Schools can also be convened by civil society organisations as is the case with the Ghana SIG, organised by the E-Governance and Internet Governance Foundation for Africa (EGIGFA).7Maciel, M. (2020). Sustainable capacity building: Internet governance in Africa – An action plan.

At the continental level, the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) takes place once a year with the aim of creating a pool of leaders from diverse sectors to participate in local and international internet governance structures and shape the future of the African internet landscape.8