Digital Disruption in Africa: Mapping Innovations for the AfCFTA in Post-COVID Times
This paper looks at the development of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in Africa against the backdrop of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and makes proposals for policymakers. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how digital innovations can help resolve some of the most serious challenges facing the world today. Digital solutions have helped many businesses and economies stay afloat in this crisis. In Africa the use of digital solutions is nothing new – indeed, the continent is recognised for its use of mobile-based payment systems such as M-Pesa, and many other innovations, including cashless payments. Digital solutions have also been hailed by the AU and other international bodies as critical for Africa’s development and growth. Trends show that digital innovations will continue to play a key role in supporting not only recovery but also sustainable growth and prosperity, benefiting Africa and contributing to the implementation of the AfCFTA. Technological developments in the 4IR are evolving rapidly, particularly in artificial intelligence, blockchain and machine learning, among others. How can these innovations integrate with and become relevant to the African context? How can they support the renaissance of African business, intraregional trade and economic development in the implementation of the AfCFTA? This paper makes various recommendations on how emerging technology and data-driven innovations can be used to address these challenges. Greater understanding of blockchain is needed to take full advantage of its benefits, especially the critical role it can play in facilitating seamless and transparent interregional trade. This is particularly key for Africa’s dynamic and expanding micro, small and medium sized enterprises. This paper is a snapshot in time of a fast-changing environment where many African entrepreneurs, academics and government bodies are seeking African solutions to African challenges. The winning ticket is a combination of digitisation, people-centric policies, and functioning and interoperable digital financing systems that will close the digital divide and create a more connected Africa. In addition, African ambassadors are needed to raise the continent’s profile and establish the quality of the ‘Made in Africa’ brand.