“Africa-Europe Cooperation and Digital Transformation”: An Extraordinary Learning Tool for African and European Leaders

Source: SIPRI February 6, 2023

The recently published book “Africa-Europe Cooperation and Digital Transformation”, edited by ACET collaborators Chux Daniels, Benedikt Erforth, and Chloe Teevan, provides a unique set of expert insights and thoughtful perspectives that are immensely useful for African and global policymakers in understanding innovation and digital opportunities for driving economic transformation. It is the first edited collection on the topic of Africa’s economic and digital transformation since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its release is well-timed at a moment when the international community re-engages on digital development in a world reframed by geopolitical evolutions, technological advances, and a greater appreciation for innovation and digital opportunities.

At ACET, we believe that economic growth is not enough, as the continent needs economic transformation. We define economic transformation through the framework of growth with DEPTH: Diversification, Exports, Productivity, Technology, and Human wellbeing. While the thirty-seven contributing authors of Africa-Europe Cooperation and Digital Transformation did not write their submissions with the DEPTH framework in mind, their work does support the framework’s applicability in the digital sphere. The reader can better appreciate the need for diversification in the chapter by El Aynaoui, Jaïdi, and Zaoui on digitalization and industrialization (chapter 7); and the importance of SMEs to digitally transform if they are to reap the benefits of regional trade (exports) within the framework of the AfCFTA as outlined by Fafunwa and Odufuwa (chapter 5).

Productivity is a key theme in Banga’s chapter on African labor markets (chapter 6), where she explores the potential for digital technologies to contribute to productivity gains across agriculture, manufacturing, and services. Technological upgrading is naturally addressed in numerous chapters such as those by Bashir and Daniels on digital skills (chapter 13). The chapters on additional frontier issues are particularly insightful. These include the chapter on the biotech revolution by Pauwels and Tilmes (chapter 4) and the chapter on digital water by Ashraf (chapter 8). These chapters highlight policy issues and opportunities “over the horizon” that policymakers should be thinking about now, particularly regarding regulatory frameworks and incentivizing policy.

Finally, there is a welcome strong emphasis on human well-being throughout the book. The concluding chapters on gender provide a fitting and optimistic closing. The chapter on feminist digital development (chapter 15) by Sladkova and Bashir highlights gaps in partnership approaches between Europe and Africa, while the final chapter on female entrepreneurs (chapter 16) by Beleyi highlights the importance of creating networks and ecosystems for female innovators that are fit for purpose.

The book very helpfully places traditional international development themes in a digital context, while also addressing policy issues that are new to African and European policymakers. For example, the discussion of data protection (chapter 10) by Erforth and Martin-Shields emphasizes that Kenya only enacted a data protection law in 2019, drawing on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR). But as a new regulation, it faces familiar challenges such as public buy-in, uncertain transition frameworks, and a lack of public institutional support for implementation.

Likewise, the chapter on digital sovereignty (chapter 2) by Fritzsche and Spoiala and the chapter on Chinese surveillance in Africa (chapter 3) by Jili are must-reads for policymakers. Since most African governments are highly dependent on non-African actors for connectivity, devices, and services, stakeholders need to be cognizant of, and better understand, the interplay of digital development and digital sovereignty.

As the global economy continues to struggle with food and energy supply challenges, rising interest rates, and increasing trade fragmentation, Africa can benefit from continuing its digital transformation. But this will require a stronger focus by African policymakers, an enhanced role for the African Union, and well-considered global partnerships, including with Europe. The EU is attempting to build digital partnerships through initiatives such as the Global Gateway and the Digital for Development Hub, which should be welcomed, but require informed dialogue.

The editors of “Africa-Europe Cooperation and Digital Transformation” should be commended for bringing together authors around the themes of politics, policies, and people, which at the same time helps informs frameworks such as ACET’s “Growth with DEPTH”. Its true value is in providing policymakers in Africa, Europe, and beyond with a window to future digital policy issues and helping them understand how to benefit from well-considered partnerships that are also fraught with complexity.

The book can be an extraordinary learning tool for African leaders. It can inform collective positions and a common African voice which are needed for effective Europe-Africa digital partnership. Through its insights African and European leaders can strive for mutually beneficial impact while supporting Africa’s digital and economic transformation