I read an interesting article recently that said digital connectivity has the potential to do for Africa what railroads did for western economies in the 19th century.

There is a great deal of truth in that (here is the article). More than 6% of Africa's GDP today comes from the digital economy.

Look at mobile technologies: Ericsson's latest report indicates that sub-Saharan Africa has the world's highest growth rate as a region for mobile subscriptions.

In 2010, mobile penetration level was just approaching 50 percent.

In 2021, the latest forecasts show that it will reach nearly 100 percent.

This is largely due to rising GDP and the availability of affordable low-cost devices. But it also comes from a young and increasing population: Africa is home to the world's largest young population.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a continent of entrepreneurs, Africa is going through its own digital revolution, stimulating economic and social development as IT ecosystems emerge from country to country.

Just in the last five years, Africa has seen its digital innovation hubs grow from a handful to hundreds.

 

Abuja, Lagos

This week I am in Nigeria, Africa's most populated country, second largest economy and a key regional partner for the EU.

But why Nigeria specifically for digital?

It has about 90 million internet users, it is fairly advanced in e-government services; it is home to one of Africa's largest ICT markets and fastest-growing startup ecosystems.

There are also problem areas, of course, such as cybercrime and the reliability and availability of online transactions.

It is clear that people first have to be connected online to get the most from the opportunities offered by the digital age.

Connectivity is vital for unlocking digital potential. More people online means more opportunities for businesses and digital entrepreneurs; Nigeria is no exception, nor is Europe.

But this is about more than communicating, as the article that I mentioned earlier also makes clear.

It is about investing in digital infrastructure, developing the right digital skills, helping emerging tech startups to grow and scale up – remarkably similar challenges to those we face in Europe as we build a Digital Single Market (DSM).

That's why I believe there is good scope for synergies and cooperation between Europe and Africa – and it will be a focus of my visit to Abuja and Lagos. Along with meeting government ministers and officials, I will visit tech hubs and startups.

In Lagos, with Nigeria's leading tech centre nicknamed Yabacon Valley, startups are emerging with huge potential and steadily attracting a lot of interest from angel investors and venture capitalists.

The Startup Europe Comes To Africa website is useful for finding out more about what Europe and Africa can do to help each other's startup communities.

 

I also aim to learn first-hand about the potential – as well as possible difficulties - for developing a strong digital partnership with Nigeria's administration and businesses.

And I want to identify areas of cooperation and investments, and build bridges between EU and African digital entrepreneurs.

 

Development is key

I will be asking what Europe can do to help, particularly with our development policy which now has digital embedded as an integral element to help create employment and stimulate economic growth.

I believe there should be a digital element in every development project. Everyone, wherever they are and whatever their circumstances, has the right to share in the world's digital future.

The Digital for Development initiative that we are working on focuses on getting people access to affordable broadband, promoting digital skills and literacy, supporting digital entrepreneurship and encouraging cross-sector digital services like e-government, e-health and e-agriculture.

I know that we need to do more to highlight the benefits of digitisation.

There are several events in 2017 where Europe could make a difference. The obvious one is the EU-Africa Summit due to be held in November, where the idea is that digital should be a major topic for discussion.

It will be a great opportunity to enhance our cooperation to develop digital skills and promote science, technology and innovation.

But it is also an occasion where EU and African countries could create a common vision and build a bridge between national digital economies and Europe's own DSM.

I am a firm believer in using technology to promote sustainable development, to reduce socio-economic inequalities, to give everyone access to digital opportunities.

Nigeria's digital environment and ecosystems are excellent places to make some headway.

Another blog soon.

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