When the government plays its role of creating an enabling environment by investing strategically and systematically in developing digital infrastructure and services, the benefits will be there for the economy to reap, Microsoft has said. Among other benefits, digital technologies offer a chance to accelerate the pace of economic and social advancement, unlocking new pathways for rapid economic growth, innovation, job creation and access to services.
The challenge, however, is that too many people in Africa lack access to the internet, and too few citizens have digital IDs or access to financial services, which in turn denies them access to critical services. This is why Ryno Rijnsburger, chief technology officer at Microsoft 4Afrika, says that to be innovative, inclusive and resilient, African governments must digitise.
“While the private sector has an important role to play in this development, governments across Africa have a critical role to play in enabling digitisation, through infrastructure development, but also in digitising their own systems and processes and by creating an enabling environment using regulatory and legal tools,” Rijnsburger said in a statement obtained by BusinessDay.
He was of the view that developments such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) reinforce the urgent need for governments to digitise to enable not just trade, but positive economic growth across the continent. In its report, ‘Reopening and Reimagining Africa’, McKinsey and Partners notes that governments will play a key role in fostering an enabling environment for digitisation, including ensuring that the regulatory and legislative environments support digitisation.
“Governments can step up the provision of digital services and information, and utilise digital tools to collect, manage and use data to inform decision-making,” Rijnsburger noted. He cited the World Bank’s Digital Economy for Africa Initiative report which notes that governments need to find more nimble and effective means of delivering services and interacting with citizens.
He added that, to unlock digital transformation, the public sector must be brought into the digital age, accelerating the rollout of digital IDs, signatures and registries, as well as implementing digital-friendly policies. “Here, private-public partnerships could play a significant role in helping to develop the necessary platforms to enable citizens to access digital IDs and services offered by the government, he said.
He disclosed that, in Morocco, their partnership with Algo Consulting has developed Wraqi, an online administration solution using machine learning, IoT and blockchain to improve citizen-government relations. He explained that Wraqi, which is powered by the Microsoft cloud, allows users to create an account with a signature repository, which government entities can use to identify, authenticate and authorise citizens.
Any government service that used to require the physical presence of a citizen can now be carried out remotely using electronic signatures and multi-factor authentication, which is likely to accelerate, but also facilitate, access to services. “Developments like this help to improve access for citizens and could also be an important step in enabling SMEs to take advantage of the potential benefits of AfCFTA, as digital identification can unlock access to financial services, among others,” he explained further.