Opening Remarks by IFC CEO Philippe Le Houérou at
the Digital Africa 2030 and Japanese Investment
Yokohama, Japan | August 28, 2019
Honorable Minister Paula Ingabire, Mr. Steiner, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: Let’s go straight into the business.
We believe that digital innovation is transforming economies. We believe that if harnessed properly, it can transform Africa too, helping the continent leapfrog the traditional development path.
We saw this happen already with M-Pesa, which started as a simple way to send mobile payments in Kenya. That was 12 years ago. Now mobile money is helping to deliver financial inclusion throughout the continent.
The digital dividend for Africa can be absolutely enormous, with potential gains in finance, e-commerce, e-government, logistics, manufacturing, health, education, and, yes, agriculture. But turning this vast potential into reality will require the collective efforts of African governments, the private sector, and development partners.
The private sector, in particular, has an important role to play—and I welcome here today the Japanese businesses at our event. At a time when many African countries face financial constraints and high public debt burdens, the private sector can provide much needed investment, in addition to knowledge and technical expertise.
In kicking off today’s event, and setting the scene for our discussions, I would like to highlight three foundational elements that are critical to unlocking the potential of digital innovation across Africa.
Available and affordable internet is a prerequisite for Africa to participate in the digital economy. However, the continent is not fully connected to broadband infrastructure. Of the 25 least connected countries globally, 21 are in Africa.
To encourage private investment, African governments must adopt the right mix of regulations that ensure a level playing field for businesses. Governments should also promote measures like shared infrastructure use, spectrum that is assigned transparently and at a fair price, and digital-friendly tax regimes.
And, obviously, we need electricity 24/7 at competitive but financially sustainable rates. Here again, the public sector can help foster private sector power generation and transmission.
The second foundational element is digital platforms. One key digital platform is ID systems. Around a billion people worldwide, of which nearly half are in Sub-Saharan Africa, lack any form of government-recognized identification. This “identity gap” prevents access to services and opportunities. As more countries seek to develop their ID systems, we believe, here again, that the private sector has an opportunity to step in and deliver reliable and secure digital ID solutions.
Talking about platforms… new digital distribution platforms are already reducing the cost of trade and making it easier for small firms to break out of their local markets. For example, large online retailers like Jumia provide platforms for small African companies to reach consumers in new markets.
The third foundational element is digital skills and entrepreneurship. Countries need tech-savvy workforces to build robust digital economies and competitive markets.
Today, digital skills are as fundamental to success as are literacy and numeracy. Big tech companies and specialized educational companies like Andela have begun to train people in Africa on coding and programming skills.
By fostering digital skills and entrepreneurship, Africa will not just be on the consumer side of the digital revolution. It will also play a role in producing technology, local content, and made-in-Africa solutions.
Ladies and gentlemen: Africa can be an attractive market for investors. Its vast resources, growing population, and nascent digital economy provide enormous opportunities for the private sector now.
IFC sees a unique opportunity for Japanese businesses to accelerate the pace of change in Africa by investing in the continent’s digital transformation. It is happening, and I hope today’s discussion will demonstrate the vast potential of Africa and will help forge stronger cooperation and partnerships between Africa and Japanese businesses.
Thank you very much.