Digital opportunities for East African countries in 2019


By 2035, Africa which has one of the youngest populations in the world will have the largest workforce in the world.

As such, there is an urgent and pressing need to develop skills that can sustain African billion-strong population workforces in both the immediate and distant future.

By investing right in education, the continent will go a long way to secure a brighter future for the whole continent.

A report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) notes that sub-Saharan Africa captured only 55 per cent of its human capital potential in 2017. This is compared with the global average of 65 per cent.

Globally, Africa lags behind in global ICT goods trade.

Unemployment and mismatched skills in Africa

Youth unemployment is an ongoing challenge on the continent.

At the same time, employers across the continent identify inadequately skilled workforces as a major constraint to their businesses amid a wave of digital transformation.

Africa’s young population has already woken up to this fact.

Liquid Telecom’s ‘The African Digital Skills Report 2019’ report uncovers a fierce appetite from this new generation to learn and master skills in emerging technologies.

Inspired by vibrant tech scenes in many of the region’s capital cities, young people today are realising that technology not only offers great career prospects – but can also be used as a force for good.

Data science, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud, are just some of the emerging technologies being used by the region’s start-ups to develop solutions to real African problems.

Greater accessibility to online learning tools and platforms is also playing a starring role in supporting the growth of digital skills.

Four East African countries- Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania- are already on the move to fill this gap.

There is a USD130 billion opportunity in digital skills in Sub-Saharan Africa by the year 2030 and the East African nations are already positioning themselves to reap from this prospect.

Digital initiatives to watch for in 2019 in East Africa

To tap into this potential, Kenya is cementing its position as a tech hotspot on the African continent.

The East African economic hub hit world headlines with innovations such as M-Pesa and Ushahidi which were billed as some of the first big tech news emanating from Africa.

Kenya’s government is seizing the potential of the digital economy to improve employment prospects, particularly among young people.

As such, a number of initiatives are in progress with the presidential Digital Literacy Programme launched in 2016 aiming to integrate ICT learning into primary education. The government has set a path to improving ICT infrastructure in schools.

This is achieved through the procurement of ICT devices for public educational facilities; developing educational digital content to support teachers’ work in schools, and providing capacity building for teachers to improve their own abilities in the digital sphere.

Under the ambitious programme, students and teachers receive tablets and laptops, on which they access pre-loaded English, Kiswahili, maths, and science content – specially designed by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD).

By mid-2018, the ICT Authority said 95 per cent of primary schools had been electrified, almost 90 per cent of public primary schools had been equipped with ICT Digital Literacy Programme infrastructure; while over 91,000 teachers had received ICT training.

However, marketable courses in Kenya offered at the best universities in Kenya have remained elusive for many since they are out of reach of many while old and less marketable ones are still being offered.

Addressing unemployment through recruitment agencies in Kenya

To tackle unemployment, the Kenyan government is using the Ajira Digital Project to reposition the country as a global go-to destination for digital work by 2022.

The initiative hopes to attract global corporations to Kenya’s digital talent and to encourage local organisations to create more online work.

It aims to promote the benefits of online work and facilitate access to digital work for all Kenyans.

The overall target is to empower one million young people to access new work opportunities via digital skills.

Phase one of the initiative is being implemented by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), in partnership with the government, and received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.

It involves the training of 10,000 youth – with the target of providing 8,000 inexperienced workers with basic soft and online working skills and 2,000 experienced online workers with skills to scale up their business.

Digital opportunities in Uganda

The pearl of Africa is working towards a digitally-enabled economy by 2040.

Uganda’s aim is to become a digitally enabled “modern and prosperous country” within the next 20 years, with its Vision 2040 plans – formulated in 2007.

This includes a number of ICT-based initiatives like the creation of at least one “high-tech city” along with science and technology parks to be located in each regional city.

Uganda has improved its ICT Development Index (IDI) ranking by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

In 2017, Uganda was listed as the second most developed country in the East African region measuring ICT access, use, and skills across 11 indicators in countries globally.

Uganda achieved approximately 10 million internet connections by 2018 in a population of 43 million and a mobile phone access rate of around 70 per cent.

The numbers show that there is a huge opportunity since large segments of the population remain excluded from the benefits of ICT especially in the rural areas.

To address these challenges, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) in conjunction with Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has supported the building of ICT laboratories in over 1,027 secondary schools (as at the end of 2017).

This is meant to help with the introduction of digital skills to secondary schools country-wide.

How Tanzania aims to achieve middle-income status by 2025

Skills development form one of the key pillars of the government’s economic goals set for 2025.

Some 15 million young people are expected to join the labour market over the next 15 years in Tanzania.

President John Pombe Magufuli’s government is placing a heightened emphasis on the role of the creation of a skilled and competent workforce for economic development.

Tanzania has achieved a GDP growth of almost 7 per cent per year thanks to improvements in key economic contributors such as mining, construction, and manufacturing.

However, these growth does not provide sufficient quantity, quality and variety of employment paths as required by those young people moving into the workplace.

Tanzania began implementing its 10 year National Skills Development Strategy (NSDP) in 2016. The NSDP identifies six priority sectors based on their potential to contribute to job creation, and their role in supporting high-growth sectors.

ICT is named as one of these focus sectors for skills development.

Under the NSDP, the Education and Skills for Productive Jobs Programme for Results was also launched in partnership with the World Bank – which is financing the programme to the tune of a USD120 million loan facility.

The programme aims to improve the quality and relevance of skills among the workforce and offer access to a variety of skills improvement opportunities to at least 30,000 students enrolled in university, technical, vocational and alternative education programmes.

The first National Skills Development Workshop was held in mid-2018 in collaboration with the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF), with a view to bringing the private sector into the planning and execution of skills-development.

Public-private sector-specific councils are set to take the lead on developing training and apprenticeship opportunities, with the first three councils – agriculture/agribusiness, tourism and transport/logistics – beginning their work in late 2018.

The Education and Skills for Productive Jobs initiative also involves the creation of two funding mechanisms – the Skills Development Fund and the Trainee Voucher Scheme.

These aim to introduce a competitive model among training providers bidding for public funds, to improve accountability, and to provide incentives for training providers to address gender equality in their course recruitment efforts.

“Digital skills are becoming vital to Tanzania’s youth. 900,000 young people are getting into the job market every year in Tanzania, but very few jobs are being created to absorb youths who are joining the jobs market. Urban skills are becoming more relevant for youths who are looking for skills that can quickly be transformed into cash,” says Jumanne Rajabu Mtambalike, Chief Executive Officer of Tanzanian investment and consultancy firm Sahara Ventures.

In the capital Dar es Salaam, digital careers are already on the rise, with fields such as digital marketing, social media management, mobile app development, graphic design and web development, proving popular, he says.

Rwanda’s pro-digital approach to development

This landlocked East African country is a frontrunner in the East Africa region in terms of ICT infrastructure.

Rwanda’s government is pursuing a positively pro-digital approach to development.

Kigali is being reimagined as a smart city – with smart initiatives ranging from government services being taken online, to free Wi-Fi being made available to the public on buses.

The government plans to include the whole population in this transformation and envisages a network of smart cities across the country.

However, digital literacy rates are still relatively low but the Rwandese government is taking active measures to upskill society.

Rwanda lacks a sufficiently skilled digital workforce to unlock the country’s potential as a true regional ICT leader.

The country’s National Digital Talent Policy was created in 2017 and aims to increase digital literacy and skills – both in terms of quality and quantity – across all levels of society.

It recognises the potential for digital tools to improve the lives of citizens, as well as drive economic development and reduce poverty.

Under the new policy, the government has identified three main areas that it will address through a range of initiatives.

Firstly, the government is providing digital literacy training across all layers of Rwandan society.

Through the likes of the One Laptop per Child programme, which aims to equip one million children with digital literacy skills by 2020, it aims to streamline education in primary schools and create “Smart Classrooms”.

The Digital Ambassadors Programme, meanwhile, aims to increase the number of digitally literate citizens through peer-to-peer learning.

It is employing 5,000 young Rwandans over four years to provide digital literacy training and support in their communities, where they will help members of the community get to grips with e-government and e-business services.

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