210715 Africa's new era: digital revolution [The Korea Times]관리자 / 2021-07-16 오전 9:03:00 / 150
By Lyeo Woon-ki
To this day, to the Korean public, Africa is still considered a destitute continent full of poverty and famine. This belief is not completely wrong; the presence of poverty across the African continent manifests itself in the fact that 31 of the 37 countries belonging to the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), as defined by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, are African countries.
Although African celebrities and influencers have been contributing to building a positive image of Africa by actively participating and speaking on Korean TV shows in the recent years, their presence has not been enough to fully deconstruct the negative image of Africa common for many years among the public here.
On the other hand, the modern-day African continent is actually deemed the "young continent," full of "potential and resources." The importance of its international role is being emphasized, with the duties of African countries being to take the initiative to reconcile and build new relationships in order to support sustainable growth across the continent.
Moreover, not only is Africa the homeland of mankind, historically speaking, but it is also the last untapped land, full of potential and resources, that can be developed and harnessed far beyond our expectations. Nearly 70 percent of the total African population of around 1.3 billion is below the age of 30, indicating the potential to develop a large market driven by the growing young population, which is expected to be approximately 2.5 billion by 2050.
For these reasons, we need to swiftly do away with this misconceived, one-sided image of Africa and take the initiative as collaborators and partners to work together toward building a bright future in Africa.
Today's Africa faces new opportunities for growth and development, as we have had in the past. In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the digital revolution allows people to interact in real-time regardless of distance and time. The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic inadvertently has been promoting online interactions and digital engagements, which is not an exception for the African continent either.
African countries falling behind in terms of industrial infrastructure have been attempting to utilize digital technology to pursue a new path of economic development. Startup companies have been on the rise across the continent. The mobile internet network that started to be common since the early 2000s explosively facilitates internet penetration throughout Africa and contributes to lessening the digital divide, thereby leading the digital revolution there.
According to the IMF, internet penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa has grown 10-fold since the early 2000s, as opposed to the mere tripling throughout the rest of the world. In addition, the Brookings Institute reported that approximately 50 percent of global mobile money accounts in 2018 were on the African continent, and it will see the fastest growth in mobile money through 2025.
During the African session of the "Jeju Forum 2021" last month, while mentioning that the African Continent Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) has been in effect since January, 2021, Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, the commissioner for infrastructure and energy of the African Union, stated that intra-country trade on the African continent will become highly accelerated by digital technology. He also emphasized that the African Union Commission has undertaken multiple initiatives, such as the digital transformation, the production of a common African database, and various digital technology developments, including e-commerce, postal services, etc.
She argued that the African continent will develop as a large "Digital Single Market," and that opportunities to cooperate with South Korea will be expanded further.
As the commissioner communicated during the forum, the digital revolution, which is currently occurring throughout the African continent, will play a key role not only in modernizing the industries and infrastructures lagging behind, but also in overcoming the continuous challenges that have been prevalent in Africa, namely: corruption, nepotism and the inefficient distribution of resources. The digital revolution across the African continent is expected to promote transparency, efficiency and productivity across various sectors.