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Blog: Africa: the future is digital

Met dank overgenomen van A. (Andrus) Ansip, gepubliceerd op dinsdag 19 juli 2016.

Last week, I read an interesting article about how, and why, U.S. tech giants are scrambling to get a market foothold in Africa.

The article, which you can read here, was a useful reminder to me of Africa's importance in the digital age as the world uses technology advances to draw closer together, socially and economically.

And as it makes clear, Africa boasts seven of the world’s 11 fastest growing economies.

It lists issues that are also familiar to us in Europe: the need for widespread access to connectivity, to get more people online, teach more digital skills and to support tech startups as they seek capital investment in order to scale up.

In fact, our two continents face many of the same challenges and barriers, as I learned a few months ago when I met some startups and incubators in Addis Ababa.

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Meeting startups in Addis Ababa

At the moment, Europe does not really have cooperation with Africa on startups. So, as a starting point, I think it would be a good idea to connect the EU and African startup environments.

A link with the Startup Europe programme, for example, would offer African startups opportunities for partnerships and access to capital.

The EU can share expertise to help raise digital skills and also work with local universities to train more high-skilled workers.

As a continent of entrepreneurs, Africa is going through its own digital revolution - and Europe can also learn a lot from the African experience.

We only need to look at the rapid growth of the M-Pesa mobile money service, launched in Kenya in 2007 and now available - as of 2014 - as far away as Romania. It is the most successful mobile-phone-based financial service in the developing world.

Africa is a region where mobile broadband subscription growth is expected to be particularly strong, mainly due to a young and increasing population, rising GDP and increasing availability of low-cost devices.

In its latest mobility report, Ericsson predicts massive expansion in markets like Africa and the Middle East - forecasting that smartphone subscriptions will increase more than 200 percent between 2015 and 2021.

So nobody should be surprised at the interest of U.S. tech companies to get into the African market. It is logical - and European companies could be doing more of this too. In technology, I think we are natural partners.

M-Pesa's success is a great example of how Africa's startup environment is able to provide local solutions to local problems.

One way for Europe to help could be to mainstream ICT into the EU's development assistance programmes and create opportunities for local startups to carry on doing what they do well - in areas such as e-agriculture, e-education and e-government.

Another blog soon.

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