Only 22% of population in sub-Sahara Africa uses mobile Internet services at end 2021 – World Bank

Despite a sense that the world is thoroughly interconnected, gaps still remain in access to technology, as there are fewer people with access to the mobile Internet in Africa.

A new World Bank report has found that only 22 per cent of the population in sub-Sahara Africa was using mobile Internet services at the end of the year 2021.

The report titled: “Digital Africa: Technological Transformation for Jobs”, finds that, of all the regions in the world, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) displays the largest gap between the availability of digital infrastructure and people’s actual usage.

“On average across countries in SSA, 84 per cent of a given country’s population had at least some level of 3G mobile Internet availability and 63 per cent had some level of 4G mobile Internet services, but only 22 per cent were using mobile Internet services at the end of 2021,” the report said citing numbers collected by the Global System for Mobile Communications Association using a methodology focused on unique subscribers. Usage rates range from a low of 6 per cent in South Sudan to 53 per cent in South Africa, underscoring the heterogeneity of average use and the need for differentiated policy reforms across countries, it added.

The report therefore, emphasises that with Africa’s share of the global workforce projected to become the largest in the world by 2100, it is critical for African countries to increase the uptake of digital technologies to drive employment growth for the more than 22 million Africans joining the workforce each year.

The report further provides a comprehensive analysis of how digital technologies can enable economic transformation and boost jobs in the region, and sheds light on how policy and regulatory reforms can widen the availability and increase usage of digital technologies.

According to the report, even though technology and innovation are known to drive long-term economic growth and can lead to much-needed modernization in economic activities across agriculture, manufacturing and services, the digital divide continues to grow between large formal and micro-sized informal enterprises, between young men- and older women-owned enterprises, and between richer, urban, and more educated households and poorer, rural, and less educated households. Only 2 per cent of micro-sized firms owned by young women and 8 per cent of micro-firms owned by young men use a computer.

Commenting, Andrew Dabalen, World Bank Chief Economist for Africa said, “The minimal usage of mobile Internet is a lost opportunity for inclusive growth in Africa. Closing the uptake gap would increase the continent’s potential to create jobs for its growing population and boost economic recovery in a highly digitalized world.”

The report among other things highlights evidence that internet availability has a positive impact on creating jobs and reducing poverty in African countries. For example, it notes that in Nigeria, labor force participation and wage employment increased by 3 and 1 percentage points, respectively, after three or more years of exposure in areas with internet availability. Job estimates for Tanzania found that working-age individuals living in areas with internet availability witnessed increases of 8 percentage points in labor force participation and 4 percentage points in wage employment, after three years of exposure. Moreover, the proportion of households falling below the national basic need poverty line dropped by 7 percentage points.

“To transform Internet availability into productive usage and job growth, the region needs affordable access, digital skills and digital technologies that meet the needs of Africans,” said Christine Zhenwei Qiang, World Bank Global Director for Digital Development. 

“Continuous sector reforms and targeted public investments that support digital economy foundations and digital uptake can help close the digital divide and unleash tremendous potential for more and better jobs for Africa’s growing population,” she added.

The report indicated that for the 40 per cent of Africans who fall below the global extreme poverty line, the cost of basic mobile data plans is often out of reach.

“Small and medium-sized businesses in Africa also face more expensive data plans than businesses in other regions. To bring down costs, governments should aim to promote competition in the provision of digital infrastructure and reduce operational costs,” it said.

It stated that to boost productive usage, governments should implement policies that support the development of more attractive digital solutions geared to the skills and productive needs people have while building broader awareness and education.

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.