Moving Mozambique Toward a Digital Future
CASEY TORGUSSON & IDAH Z. PSWARAYI-RIDDIHOUGH
Digital technologies can provide an opportunity to re-write Mozambique’s story. Access is a critical piece of this equation – expanding affordable, high-speed internet services, a.k.a “broadband” coverage to all communities across Mozambique and connecting people in their homes, businesses and on their mobile phones. With access to broadband, people can get online to talk to or send money to far-flung family members, farmers can find better prices for their maize or cassava without being beholden to a middleman, an expectant mother in a rural village can consult with a doctor on her smartphone, a young adult in Maputo can learn car repair by watching videos on YouTube and set up a new business. The possibilities are almost endless.
The percentage of people who have internet access has more than doubled from 15 to 32 percent between 2015 to 2021. Despite this impressive achievement, this means that more than two-thirds of Mozambicans still do not have access to the internet and are therefore excluded from the digital world . Among the unconnected, almost three-quarters say they can’t afford internet services or internet-connected devices like smartphones and computers. A third of the population live in rural areas without any mobile broadband signal – unable to connect at any price. And a third of mobile phone users lack the skills to use the internet on their devices. These barriers are even starker for the lowest-income families, women, and other vulnerable groups.
This is the backdrop for the Mozambique Digital Acceleration Project. The project is a collaboration between the Government of Mozambique and the World Bank Group to tackle these challenges and ensure that many more Mozambicans are able to get online and have the skills to confidently and safely use digital technologies to communicate, access information and services at their fingertips, and increase their earning potential.
The work is broad and ambitious. Building on the broader Government of Mozambique’s digital portfolio, it will support, among other things:
- Policy reforms in the telecom sector to encourage more private sector investment to expand network coverage and improve internet speeds while spurring more competition to drive down prices for all consumers;
- Expansion of mobile broadband networks to cover more than 2 million people in deeply rural areas for the first time, alongside free public Wi-Fi access points and programs to reduce the purchase price of smartphones in underserved communities and for disadvantaged groups;
- Digital skills programs to boost capabilities and comfort with using digital technologies and accessing digital services as well as programs to prepare secondary level students for future employment by connecting classrooms to the internet, equipping them with computers, and upskilling teachers to ensure that graduates will have the digital skills needed to find good jobs in the future workforce; and
- Investments in the core digital infrastructure, cybersecurity and data protection capabilities needed to modernize government operations and offer more convenient, secure and user-friendly public services online.
Ultimately, the success of the project will be measured by the stories of the individuals empowered with access to the internet and digital skills. Some will use this to make routine tasks more convenient or their lives more enjoyable. For example, using a mobile wallet or online banking to avoid having to travel and wait in line to withdraw or deposit cash at a bank, pay a utility bill, school fees or taxes. For others, especially young people, it could fundamentally change their future trajectory – creating a pathway to work remotely for a global software development company or for a local IT company with earning potential of 20 times or more than the local average.
Zooming out, increased digitization of the economy, society and the government will also pave the way for more robust, equitable and resilient growth for the country as a whole. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimates that every 10 percent increase in mobile broadband penetration in Africa leads to an additional 2.5 percent GDP growth per capita. Digitization can also help diversify the economy, shifting away from a mining and natural resource extraction led model that employs and benefits relatively few, toward an economy powered by growth of digitally enabled services and trade which can employ and benefit many and is less vulnerable to economic or climate shocks. For instance, it can expand opportunities for small businesses to become more productive, grow and reach new customers through online platforms and advertising, and connect individuals to new opportunities to earn a living. When the next cyclone, flood or drought hits, or if another pandemic or conflict strikes, it can ensure that businesses and government can continue operations and displaced people can access essential services and financial assistance virtually if physical facilities are damaged or in person transactions are restricted.
By the time the project concludes in 2028, this digital future should be a reality for millions more Mozambicans and the country as a whole should have a much more solid digital foundation to continue building and innovating upon.