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EU-AU partnership to foster development of digital ID ecosystems in Africa

EU-AU partnership to foster development of digital ID ecosystems in Africa

An Africa-Europe Digital for Development (D4D) Hub Multi-Stakeholder Forum, which took place recently, has underlined the need for partnerships that will help power Africa’s digital transformation agenda and enable the putting in place of digital ID ecosystems across the continent.

A press release from the European Commission indicates that the virtual event was held on March 18 under the theme “Digital Transformation for Sustainable Development in Africa” with the goal of promoting collaboration with the private sector, enterprises, civil society organizations, and experts in the digital domain.

The forum came on the heels of the 6th EU-AU summit which took place in Brussels and saw European leaders pledge a €150 billion (approximately US$165 billion) investment package, which aims among other things to spur Africa’s sustainable digital transformation forward, the announcement notes.

Speaking on these prospects after the forum, AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, says: “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of digital technologies, data and innovation to keep our businesses, healthcare, education and public services running among others. These exceptional times have also shown the urgency to invest in secure and affordable Africa’s digital infrastructure, digital skills, digital identity, data management and build on Africa’s innovation potential and entrepreneurship. The African Union welcomes the enhanced partnership with the European Union that is based on respect, transparency, equal opportunity, win-win approach and agreed tangible outcome and further engagement with African and European stakeholders to accelerate the digital transformation of our continent.”

Also speaking on the development, Jutta Urpilainen, EU commissioner for International Partnerships, comments: “Today we kicked off a much-needed dialogue with our private sector and civil society partners in Africa and Europe to build a shared digital future that leaves no one behind. This is the first step in implementing concretely the deliverables of the recent EU-AU Summit.  In line with the Global Gateway Strategy, the EU will scale up investments, support innovation, and promote digital rights. Bridging the digital divide is key in fighting inequalities. To achieve this, we must work together with all our partners in the digital ecosystem.”

While participants during the meeting agreed that the partnership has the potential to drive a green economy through sustainable and inclusive digital transformation, they also recognized the importance of digital skills development as a spring-board for the creation of decent and lucrative jobs.

The World Bank ID4D group recently said in an annual report that a paradigm shift is needed for Africa’s digital ID ecosystems, with increased attention from senior levels of government and increased autonomy for ID agencies.

Recommendations to tackle trust issues in Africa’s digital ID space

A Foresight Africa 2022 article published by the Brookings Institution proposes that a couple of steps have to be taken, including the putting in place of effective digital identity and data governance mechanisms, if the full potential of Africa’s digital efforts has to be unlocked. Cyberattacks cost African economies more than $3.5 billion even back in 2017, according to the report.

The report by Adedeji Adeniran, research director at the Center for the Study of the Economies of Africa, delves into the state of data governance in Africa. Although there is a growing proliferation of laws and regulation on data protection, implementation remains a big challenge, he writes. The author posits, however, that the challenge in implementation notwithstanding, the progress recorded is more at national levels than through regional or multilateral frameworks.

As a way forward, the report recommends, among other things, that policy makers should lay emphasis on ‘enabler’ laws especially around digital trade; the need to build checks and balances into data governance frameworks to avoid monopolies, as well as efforts by national and regional leaders to up “collaboration and coordination around strengthening regional data governance, sharing mechanisms and experiences for best practices in regulating the digital space.”

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