Research: How Technology Could Promote Growth in 6 African Countries

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Africa is closely watched as a next immeasurable expansion market – a outline that has persisted for a while. There are many reasons for optimism: a African continent is home to some of a youngest populations in a world, it promises to be a vital consumption market over a subsequent 3 decades, and it is increasingly mobile phone-enabled. An rising digital ecosystem is quite essential as multiplier of that growth, given entrance to intelligent phones and other inclination enhances consumer information, networking, job-creating resources, and even financial inclusion.

Despite these reasons for optimism, a guarantee stays unfulfilled. Growth in Africa has stalled; both a IMF and a World Bank have cut their 2019 mercantile expansion projections for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to 3.5% and 2.8%, respectively, with expansion in 2018 during 2.3%. Poverty has increasing — 437 million of a world’s impassioned bad are in SSA — and 10 of a 19 many unsymmetrical countries in a universe are in SSA. The World Bank projects that if misery rebate measures and expansion sojourn sluggish, Africa could be home to 90% of a world’s poor by 2030.

Despite these sobering statistics, we wondered either a loyal acceleration intensity for a segment lies in a quick widespread of mobile digital technology, that would assistance a region “leapfrog” ahead in a mercantile development. At a Tufts Fletcher School, in a investigate plan saved by a Mastercard Impact Fund administered by a Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, we examined this proposition. We complicated 6 pivotal countries drawn from opposite sub-regions of a continent representing striking archetypes of distance (of economy and population), mercantile growth, median age, peculiarity of governance, and digital momentum : Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa. We examined 3 primary categories of levers that could interpret digital record uptake into expansion and thorough growth: jobs enabled by digital platforms; institutional drivers required for digital success; and a foundational digital intensity of a country.

These levers were integrated into a horizon we call a African Leapfrog Index (ALI), introduced here. ALI evaluates any nation opposite a continent-wide “best-performance” benchmark by requesting a routine we have introduced in progressing HBR articles about tellurian digital strategy. We wish it offers a accessible apparatus for decision-makers in business and process to brand nation and spontaneous strengths and prioritize a gaps to be closed.

Our horizon integrates a following factors:

Ease of Creating Digital jobs

  • Potential for High Skilled Digital Jobs: To what border is a nation prepared for high learned digital jobs, such as online freelance work?
  • Potential for Medium Skilled Digital Jobs: To what border is a nation prepared for middle learned digital jobs, such as float pity services?
  • Potential for Low Skilled Digital Jobs: To what border is a nation prepared for low learned normal jobs combined by a digital sector, such as e-commerce, that creates work in smoothness services, warehousing and logistics?

Governance and Infrastructure Resilience

  • Online Freedoms: Does a supervision concede for giveaway debate and sell online?
  • Governance: Does a supervision have effective digital services and regulations in place?
  • Basic Infrastructure: Does a nation have arguable simple infrastructure, such as internet connectivity and mobile networks, as good as electricity supply?

Foundational Digital Potential

  • Overall State of Digital Evolution: What is a turn of a country’s digital expansion as totalled by a Digital Evolution Index?
  • Digital Momentum: How quick has a state of digital expansion altered during a past decade?
  • Use of Mobile Money: To what border has a nation shifted from faith on income to digital money, quite mobile money?

The 6 African countries we complicated arrangement opposite profiles in terms of strengths and gaps. Their relations standings along any of a essential factors are visualized in a striking below. The outdoor range represents a benchmark and any country’s footprint is shown within a figure. The closer a footprint is to a outdoor boundary, a aloft a leapfrog intensity in a country.

There are several patterns of note. The 6 African countries can be orderly into 4 segments:

  1. Paving a way: Kenya and South Africa
  2. Punching above a weight: Rwanda
  3. Untapped opportunities for growth: Egypt and Nigeria
  4. Potential for biggest digital gains: Ethiopia

Let’s demeanour during where a research shows a biggest opportunities and gaps are for any of these countries.

South Africa

South Africa is a spontaneous personality in a Ease of Creating Digital Jobs, buoyed by clever consumer direct for digital businesses and an institutional sourroundings that offers understanding regulations, comparing agreeably opposite pivotal rising marketplace nations in Latin American and Asian/Southeast Asian regions. South Africa is also a spontaneous personality in a deployment of several rising technologies, such as biometric information and remuneration cards to broach amicable security, drones in mining, that helps keep it during a innovative edge. South Africa also has several facilitating factors that strengthen a strengths: on a continent that struggles with energy outages, it has a lowest frequency of monthly outages among a countries studied; it has high digital clarity measures, including a comparatively clever Freedom on a Net score; and it was ranked 19th globally as a financial heart by a World Economic Forum, that also scored a nation rarely for carrying one of a many modernized ride infrastructures in a region. 

Key Actions Recommended

  • With 64% internet penetration, and broadband and mobile internet speeds below a tellurian median, South Africa should boost internet entrance to a broader cross-section of a race and urge a peculiarity of a access.
  • While 60% of South Africans intent in digital payments in 2017, this series falls to 30% for a lowest 40%. Digital payments capabilities contingency be done some-more thorough and some-more widespread.
  • With 29% stagnation – and 55.2% among 15-24 years olds — and negligence GDP growth, job-creating digital businesses should be promoted.
  • Policies to follow by on President Ramaphosa’s joining to a “skills revolution” – including artistic and multimedia skills — contingency be prioritized.


Home to what’s famous as a “Silicon Savanah” in Nairobi, Kenya has a growing, tech-savvy ecosystem. Thanks to a recognition of M-Pesa, a mobile payments capability charity by Safaricom, over 70% of Kenyans have a mobile income account, and over 75% of Kenyans aged 15 or comparison done a mobile remuneration in a final year. During a past decade, Kenya has modernized fast as a hotspot for some of a continent’s many innovative digital enterprises, such as Ushahidi, M-KOPA, M-TIBA, etc. There are 200 digitized services charity by Huduma E-Centers countrywide and a extensive online government-to-citizen services platform, eCitizen. Kenya’s policymakers have enabled a auspicious regulatory environment, and have promoted a high use of digital payments.

Key Actions Recommended

  • A Kenyan innate currently is expected to grasp during many 52% of their intensity if they tarry to adulthood given of gaps in a preparation and health systems. Investments in policies to foster education, digital skills and medical contingency be prioritized.
  • Investments in simple infrastructure, to revoke energy outages and other disruptions contingency be made.
  • Despite a care with M-Pesa, income accounts for 71% of Kenya’s sum payments, essentially given non-consumer payments are disproportionately in cash. Kenya has huge intensity for a digitization of payments involving businesses.
  • Digitization barriers in a value chain, such as miss of credit, user believe issues, and spontaneous economy hurdles should be addressed; cultivation and food libation sectors offer a best opportunities.


Rwanda has been relocating to renovate itself into a digital hub, with several critical initiatives, including Irembo, a government-to-citizen services e-portal, high mobile comment usage, stretched 4G coverage opposite a country, and softened digital skills. Rwanda’s Mara Group also became a initial manufacturers of a smartphone done wholly in Africa. For example, 90% of Rwandans are within 5 km of a financial entrance point, due to a Umurenge SACCOs (USACCOs), determined in 2008 to boost farming assets and to yield livelihood-enhancing loans to Rwandans.  Also, Rwanda is has played a pioneering purpose in a segment in exploring several pivotal rising technologies, such as drones used to broach vicious reserve to untouched areas or deliberation a central bank released digital currency.

Key Actions Recommended

  • Rwanda’s mobile income adoption rates, while high, can still be improved. There are 3 mobile operators charity mobile income services, though a banks still need to rise their strategies.
  • Irembo can grasp a full intensity by policies that urge digital education, connectivity, and acceptance and authentication of e-certificates.
  • Policies contingency prioritize bridging a urban-rural digital divide, and in shortening electricity, water, and ride infrastructure disruptions. They contingency also residence a rarely fragmented markets, bad request supervision and remuneration tracking methods, and a interoperability between USACCOs and mobile income operators.
  • USACCO operations need to be softened to revoke leakages and theft, urge efficiencies, and boost a profitability of a cooperatives.


The digital record section is Egypt’s second-fastest flourishing sector. The nation is also producing a immeasurable series of learned graduates; it has a highest series of tertiary graduates of a countries we studied. Egypt is a spontaneous personality in learned digital jobs origination with online freelancer pools in artistic and multimedia, program expansion and technology, and in essay and translation. With 50% of a race next a age of 30 and a vast e-commerce market, Egypt is also building one of a region’s fastest flourishing entrepreneurial hubs.

Key Actions Recommended

  • With customarily 8% of Egyptians over 15 years of age carrying done a digital remuneration in a final year, policies to foster a use of digital payments contingency be implemented. The new law requiring many payments over 500 Egyptian pounds ($29) to government, and many of a salaries and fees paid out by open and private entities, be done electronically is an example, though other actions are needed.
  • With one of a weakest records on online freedoms in a Middle East, Egypt can emanate opportunities in digital media by relaxing internet censorship rules.
  • The high frequency of internet disruptions and website restraint contingency be decreased.


Nigeria has a absolute entrepreneurial climate, with innovative ventures such as Jumia, Interswitch, Kobo360, and Andela as a outcomes. These ventures cut opposite a education, fintech, agriculture, healthcare, logistics, and travel. Nigeria was Africa’s leading startup investment destination in 2018, recording scarcely $95 million in deals. Lagos’ Yaba area has even warranted a nickname “Yabacon Valley.” The relations affordability of Nigeria’s internet is key: The Economist ranks it initial in affordability in a region. The government’s National Identity Management Commission is set for a vast registration for a country’s imperative National Identity Number (NIN). A singular temperament complement is essential in building countries, where a immeasurable infancy have few other ways to infer who they are and thereby get entrance to open services or a financial system, customarily by a mobile phone.

Key Actions Recommended

  • Nigeria contingency urge on a use of digital payments. Some 87% of Nigeria’s economy is transacted in income and many Nigerians had never listened of mobile money. Policies to kindle larger mobile income use will be critical — in 2018, a executive bank authorised telecoms and supermarkets to be “payment use banks,” and take deposits and make payments by digital means, though a use needs to turn mainstream.
  • Policies to promote digitization contingency adjust to many challenges, which, themselves, contingency be addressed over time. There is a high magnitude of power outages, low turn of open trust in technology, and a immeasurable spontaneous economy (65% of GDP and 80% of workforce).
  • Nigeria’s sizable super-wealthy village should be improved speedy to attend in early-stage and angel investments in digital startups.


While it has a many belligerent to cover among a 6 countries studied, Ethiopia is experiencing certain developments in several areas that can promote digitally enabled growth. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, has a background in and understanding of a tech section and has been implementing remodel in a series of sectors, including privatization of several state-owned entities. Ethiopia has also been upgrading a infrastructure, with a $20 billion investment in a energy sector. Overall enrollment in aloft preparation comforts in a nation have grown five-fold given 2005, and a supervision has a process of training 70% of students in STEM; so a tellurian collateral bottom is strong. With a fast-emerging tech hub, also famous as ‘Sheba Valley,’ a nation has had several homegrown ride-hail ventures, Ride and ZayRide, startup marketplaces, Gebeya and BlueMoon, as good as an agtech incubator and seed fund. Ethiopia can precedence advances in adjacent areas: there is a growing production industry and use of modernized technologies, such as blockchain use in tracking a supply sequence and enhancing trade in coffee beans.

Key Actions Recommended

  • With customarily 15% of a race online, low widespread of 3G and 4G technologies, and low use of digital payments (only 12% of a race over 15 years of age done or perceived a digital remuneration in 2016) , there is copiousness of headroom for digital growth. Ethiopia contingency tighten a low digital divide, deposit in simple infrastructure, and promote competition. Internet entrance needs to be done some-more affordable and arguable for a normal Ethiopian.
  • Privatization of pivotal sectors can assistance catalyze foe and an entrepreneurial climate. A pivotal expansion that could lead a approach is a privatization of a telecoms sector
  • The nation is roughly wholly reliant on cash, and would advantage from a regulatory sourroundings that builds trust in digital money
  • Ensuring trustworthiness of a pivotal infrastructure should be prioritized. An unreliable energy supply, along with conscious internet shutdowns during anti-government protests, states of emergency, or to extent examination cheating, are all primary barriers to a country’s digital evolution.

Implications for Africa’s mercantile growth

The recently announced African Continental Free Trade area went into force in May 2019. The agreement could, in principle, emanate a singular marketplace of over a billion consumers with a sum GDP of over $3.4 trillion, creation Africa a largest giveaway trade area in a world. There are incompatible motives for pan-African team-work opposite countries. For some countries, such as Nigeria, that are contingent on tellurian markets, a incentives to be attend are weaker, while a nation like South Africa would have a stronger seductiveness in a pan-African market.

As a research has shown, a digital advantages and gaps of opposite countries change widely. A free-trade section could assistance in collaborative initiatives, such as a benchmarking described here, to tighten a gaps and send believe opposite countries to capacitate a behind guarantee of expansion in Africa and assisting make a expansion thorough – thereby accomplishing that singular materialisation of removing lions to leapfrog.

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