International elements in digital transformation and development strategies of African countries
Almost all African countries have national strategies, plans, and other policy documents that cover digital topics. These can be either documents specifically focused on digital issues (e.g. broadband plans, digitalisation strategies, e-commerce policies) or broader development plans, which include certain digital components (Figure 3).
Digital development across Africa is gradually picking up, but the region is significantly behind compared to developed countries. For instance, the eight focus countries have relatively low scores in various indices tracking issues such as network readiness, connectivity, and overall digital development (Table 3). Against this backdrop, when countries outline strategies and policies related to digital issues, these generally focus on setting priorities, goals, and measures to advance overall digital transformation at the national level and help speed up the uptake of digital technologies as drivers of growth and development.
In Kenya, for example, the National Digital Master Plan (2022–2032) has as an overall objective the development of a ‘robust, secure, affordable, accessible and reliable digital ecosystem that benefits the public and private sector, and improved quality of life’.2Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, Kenya. (2021). The Kenya National Digital Master Plan. Nigeria’s Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020–2030) outlines objectives related to accelerating digitalisation processes, expanding broadband penetration, enhancing digital skills, and promoting innovation and entrepreneurship, among others.3Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Nigeria. (2020). National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy.
Table 3. Digital development level4Governance Academy Foundation. (n.d.). National Cyber Security Index. The index also includes a digital development level, which is calculated based on the ICT Digital Development Index and the Networked Readiness Index.and network readiness score5Portulans Institute. (2021). Network Readiness Index 2021. The network readiness score combines a series of indicators related to technology (e.g. access to ICT, digital technology produced in the country, whether countries are prepared for technologies such as AI), people (e.g. digital skills, the use of ICT by businesses and governments), governance (e.g. the extent to which policies and regulations promote inclusion and participation in the network economy), and impact (e.g. the economic, social, and human impact of participation in the network economy).for the eight focus countries.
Elements of foreign policy
In addition to outlining goals and objectives to be achieved at the national level, some national policies and strategies also include outward-looking elements. Zooming in on the eight focus countries, we look at the extent to which elements of foreign policy (cooperation with international entities, engagement in international processes, positioning of the country on the international scene, etc.) are referenced in general strategies and other policy documents related to digitalisation, ICT, or broad development plans.
When countries develop general plans and policies focused on digitalisation and digital transformation, they almost always outline economic goals related to enhancing their competitiveness in regional and international markets. Kenya’s National Digital Master Plan highlights among its overarching objectives that of positioning the country as a ‘globally competitive digital economy’ and creating a ‘globally attractive legal, regulatory, and policy ecosystem that provides adequate support to start-ups’.
The plan also envisions Kenya ‘as a leader in emerging technology adoption, localisation, and utilisation for development’, as well as in global discourses and discussions on issues related to emerging technologies. Similar goals appear in the country’s Digital Economy Blueprint, which notes that the digital economy offers Kenya a leapfrogging opportunity for economic development, and outlines objectives and actions to help the country ‘become a regional and global innovation leader driving a strong sustainable economy and a better society’.6Republic of Kenya. (2019). Digital Economy Blueprint. Likewise, the National ICT Policy wants Kenya to ‘gain global recognition for innovation’, develop an innovation and start-up ecosystem that can lead globally, and ‘become a more prosperous participant in the global economy’.7Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, Kenya. (2019). National Information, Communications and Technology Policy.
Nigeria too wants not only to actively participate in the global digital economy but also to leverage digital technologies in order to become ‘a leading player’, as noted in its National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy.
Supporting domestic businesses to increase their competitiveness on regional and global markets – in particular in emerging tech domains – is among the goals included in South Africa’s ICT and Digital Economy Masterplan.8Although various online governmental sources indicate that the plan has been approved, we were unable to locate the final version of the document. Therefore, throughout this document we refer to an intermediate draft: Knowledge Executive and Genesis. (2020). ICT and Digital Economy Masterplan for South Africa. Draft for discussion.
For Ghana, key goals behind its National ICT for Accelerated Development Policy include the development of a ‘dynamic export-led and globally competitive ICT industry’ and ‘securing a place for Ghana in the international economic system’.9Republic of Ghana. (2003). The Ghana ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4D) Policy. These goals are reinforced in the Ghana Beyond Aid policy, which foresees that by 2028, the country ‘would have leveraged its abundant human talent to become a leader (at least in Africa) in the digital economy’.10Ghana Beyond Aid Committee. (2019). Ghana beyond Aid Charter and Strategy Document.
Cote d’Ivoire has a somewhat similar goal outlined in its National Digital Development Strategy 2021–2025: accelerate digital transformation at the national level in order to become one of Africa’s top five innovation leaders by 2025.11Ministry of Digital Economy, Telecommunications and Innovation, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. (2022). Stratégie Nationale de Développement du Numérique en Côte d’Ivoire (National Digital Development Strategy of Côte d’Ivoire).
Ensuring that the country is part of the ‘global information society’ and increasing the competitiveness of ICT businesses on international markets are envisioned in Namibia’s Overarching ICT Policy.12Ministry of ICT, Namibia. (2009). Overarching Information Communications Technology (ICT) Policy.
Rwanda wants to position itself as a globally competitive knowledge-based economy and this goal appears across several documents such as the ICT Sector Strategic Plan13Ministry of Information Technology and Communications, Republic of Rwanda. (2017). ICT Sector Strategic Plan.and the Smart Rwanda Master Plan.14Ministry of Youth and ICT, Republic of Rwanda. (2015). Smart Rwanda Master Plan. The country also sees itself as a future regional ICT hub and has a specific strategy in place dedicated to this goal – the ICT Hub Strategy 2024.15Ministry of Information Technology and Communications, Republic of Rwanda. (2018). ICT Hub Strategy 2024.
Developing a digital economy which is competitive at the regional and international levels is one of the goals outlined in Senegal’s Digital Senegal Strategy 2016–2025.16Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, Republic of Senegal. (2016). Stratégie Sénégal Numérique 2016–2025 (Digital Senegal Strategy 2016–2025).
It is worth highlighting that some of these countries share leadership-related goals. Kenya and Nigeria, for instance, aim to position themselves as global leaders in innovation and/or the digital economy, while Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire aspire to a similar status at least within Africa. Translated into concrete actions, these goals can help advance healthy competition on the digital economy scene within and beyond the region.
Building partnerships with international entities (in particular, but not limited to, donors and development agencies/banks) to help achieve domestic digital transformation goals is another objective shared by several countries. Kenya intends to foster links with, and seek support (technical, material, financial, capacity development-related) from international development partners to implement elements of its National Digital Master Plan and other ICT and digitalisation policies. It also wants to cooperate with ‘international systems and platforms for global reach’, attract foreign direct investments, and encourage international businesses to open offices in the country (National ICT Policy).
Facilitating partnerships with multinational tech companies ‘to create platforms for indigenous vendors to serve global markets’ is envisioned by Nigeria (National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy), while South Africa’s similar goal is to ‘facilitate investment and partnerships with global buyers of digitally traded services’ (ICT and Digital Economy Masterplan). Attracting international corporations through investment-friendly policies and garnering their support in establishing ICT research and development (R&D) centres are among Rwanda’s objectives (Smart Rwanda Master Plan). Ghana too intends to promote partnerships between local R&D institutions and foreign and international centres of excellence (National ICT for Accelerated Development Policy).
More general goals related to fostering international cooperation are outlined by several countries. Kenya, for instance, wants to ‘leverage regional and international cooperation and engagement to ensure that [it] is able to harness global opportunities’ (National ICT Policy). For Rwanda, one of the goals behind its ICT Hub Strategy is to partner with global organisations/institutions to develop tech-based solutions needed to address socio-economic challenges in areas such as education, health, and agriculture.
The harmonisation of ICT/digital-related domestic policies and legal and regulatory frameworks with relevant international frameworks features as a common goal across national documents in Kenya and Ghana. This implies some level of engagement with the organisations and processes behind those frameworks. Other policy documents are more detailed in this regard, indicating specific instruments and frameworks to ensure harmonisation in areas such as spectrum policies, cybersecurity, and data protection. (We cover these elsewhere.)