ITU: Capacity building in Africa is an essential driver of growth

The increased pace of globalization and technological advancement is expanding the divide between Africa and other regions, making capacity building a critical agenda on the continent.

Machines are now doing more jobs, therefore people have to quickly learn new skills to do different jobs. This is where capacity building becomes crucial.

Obstacles to digital development

Technology and innovation are essential drivers to tackle poverty, drive growth and achieve sustainable development across Africa. Prioritizing capacity building efforts is necessary if the continent hopes to benefit from the digital era.

Africa is nowhere near its full potential, but it is moving in the right direction. If policies, projects and agendas are implemented consistently and efficiently, the continent could experience rapid development in the digital world.

Several countries are already making headway. According to the 2017 Global Innovation Index, several African countries have been classified as “innovation achievers” in the continent, including Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Senegal.

Yet, many African nations are not able to fully benefit from global advancements in technology. Inadequate infrastructure (e.g. electricity and broadband), shortage of ICT skills (hardware, software), and weak public-private partnerships are just some of the obstacles they face.

Infrastructure requirements

The digital capacity of countries is only as effective as its digital infrastructure. It will be an impossible task to accomplish capacity building in Africa if the structures and infrastructures required to facilitate learning are not in place. Whilst human capital is important, Africa needs to invest heavily in its digital infrastructure.

“African governments must alter the way they engage with youth – starting with modifying existing learning systems.”

For instance, broadband connectivity in many African nations – when available – tends to be relatively slow, unreliable and expensive. Some countries, such as Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa and Nigeria, are implementing ambitious broadband plans to increase Internet penetration rapidly both within the metropolitan cities and the rural communities.

Such projects will enhance accessibility, affordability and availability of connectivity services, which will foster faster youth inclusion in the digital space.

Engaging youth for the digital era

Young people should be the targeted demographic when efforts are underway to improve capacity building in the digital era.

First, African governments must alter the way they engage with youth – starting with modifying existing learning systems. The traditional academic curriculum adopted by many institutions (primary, secondary and tertiary) is outdated and does not offer the skills and knowledge required to succeed in the globalized world. A reform of curricula and the introduction of courses in entrepreneurship and digital technology would be advantageous for individuals and society in general.

The use of innovation hubs, for example, is an engaging approach not only to boost skill acquisition, but to promote innovation and creativity in a dynamic and challenging community. By creating a conducive and inclusive ecosystem where they can interact and network, young people are more likely to come together to drive the innovation that is needed in the digital era.

Although some initiatives have already been implemented in certain countries, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda, to improve the ecosystem for start-ups and accelerate innovation, there is still vast room for improvement. One of the challenges of this strategy is the lack of sufficient expertise within the continent to drive the implementation of these hubs.

Additionally, African governments must accelerate their efforts towards bridging the gender gap in the ICT sector. More females should be encouraged to pursue science and technology-related programmes and should be given the support they need to emerge successfully.

Finally, governments should also tailor programmes and policies for people with special needs and other vulnerable groups to ensure that no one is excluded.

*Read the full article in the Digital Skills Insights 2019 publication.