AU and EU step up digital cooperation for sustainable development in Africa
Digital cooperation is a cornerstone of the AU-EU strategic partnership, as underlined by representatives from the European Union and the African Union on 18 March 2022 at the Africa-Europe Digital for Development (D4D) Hub Multi-Stakeholder Forum.
The event, which took place virtually, was co-hosted by the African Union Commission and the European Commission with the aim of promoting exchanges and collaboration with the private sector, enterprises, civil society organisations, and experts in the digital field from both continents.
Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, highlighted Africa’s Digital Transformation journey and said “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 secured and affordable Africa’s digital infrastructure, digital skill, 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.”
Ms Jutta Urpilainen, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships said: “Today we kicked off a much-needed dialogue with our private sector and civil society partners in Africa and Europe on how to build a shared digital future that leaves no one behind. The EU is committed to scaling up investments, supporting innovation, and upholding digital rights. Bridging the digital divides, particularly those based on gender and income, is key for inclusive sustainable development and to fighting inequalities. To achieve this, we must work in close collaboration with all the stakeholders of the digital ecosystem.”
The Africa-Europe D4D Hub Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Digital Transformation for Sustainable Development in Africa was held one month after the 6th European Union –African Union Summit, where leaders from both continents announced a EUR 150 billion Africa-Europe Investment Package, which amongst other priorities aims to accelerate Africa’s sustainable digital transformation. This ambition aligns with the EU Global Gateway, a strategy set out to boost smart, clean, and secure investments in connectivity, and the AU Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa 2020 – 2030, which aims to transform Africa’s economies and societies by harnessing digital technologies, the potential of data and innovation for the benefit of people. It also supports the 35th AU Summit held from 5 to 6 February 2022 which called for the acceleration of Africa’s quality infrastructure development.
As reportedly only 33 % of African people use the Internet, compared to a world average of 63 %, closing the digital divide and connecting the unconnected meaningfully has become a top priority in AU-EU relations. Joint efforts are particularly needed to ensure that women, rural populations, and youth reap the benefits of digital transformation.
A safe, sustainable, and inclusive digital transformation holds a great potential to support a green recovery and a more resilient economy. The AU-EU digital partnership can help address the pressing need to expand and deepen regional value chains and harmonise policies, legislation, and regulations, as well as safeguard data sovereignty.
Participants at the forum also stressed the need to invest in digital skills so as to exploit the potential of digital innovation for decent job creation in the digital world. With 70% of Africa’s population under the age of 30, digital entrepreneurship offers untapped opportunities for youth. Best practices were identified to steer multi-stakeholder collaborations for digital skills development and support of local innovation ecosystems.