How Ghana and Gambia are planning to bolster their digital economies


As legacy economies continue to fall out of favor the world over, Ghana and Gambia are ramping up efforts to build tech-based economies.

In a time when most economies run by oil, manufacturing, and agriculture are shifting to digital economies, the two countries with a combined population of 35 million don’t want to be sidelined.

Now, they have joined Nigeria, Rwanda, Morocco, and Djibouti as members of the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO) that aims to link Africa and Gulf countries in the realization of a common digital economy agenda.

Other members are Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, and Pakistan. They collectively represent nearly $2 trillion in GDP and a market of nearly 600 million people.

Africa faces funding shortfalls in tech infrastructure, challenges in implementing data protection policies, and slow adoption of frontier tech skills, but hopes that partnerships supporting its digital economy agenda could unlock financing.

Gambia is struggling

The Gambian government continues to pursue the realization of a digital transformation agenda, even in the midst of economic turmoil.

The country’s digital economy has largely remained underdeveloped leaving it ill-prepared for the global reality of digitally enabled economies. Mobile internet is both slow and expensive while penetration is limited.

The Gambia faces considerable challenges—including a fragile economy and poverty—in its quest for digital transformation despite being a coastal country; a factor that presents it with an opportunity for easy marine fiber optic cable infrastructure development.

Such challenges result in key supply-side barriers such as high prices, low quality, and feeble reliability of broadband services, leaving downstream development of the digital economy largely stifled, according to a World Bank report.

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy in Gambia Ousman Bah said his country is gearing up towards a skill-based economy to close the digital divide. “We need to collaborate with other nations to share tech knowledge. We have to be solution providers,” he said at the at the second general assembly of the organization in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Feb. 5.

In 2022, only 2% of the country’s adult population used mobile money according to World Bank, an indicator of the low penetration of digital financial services.

Ghana is on the right path

Ghana has experienced a digital technology growth by leaps and bounds, and now ranks among the leaders in sub-Saharan Africa in tech adoption.

A 2019 survey by the World Bank indicates that the west African country ranks third, behind Nigeria and South Africa in terms of how digital platforms are transforming the economy. It is second after Kenya in terms of mobile money adoption in Africa.

Ghana’s minister of communications and digitalization Ursula Owusu noted that it is time Africa devised its direction of the future and trained its population on the latest advancements in tech. “We have to be in control of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We have to create the opportunities today,” she said.

The country’s government is in addition prioritizing efforts in more digital technologies in other sectors such as the implementation of its digital initiatives including national ID issuance, digital address systems, and land records digitization. It is consolidating them to improve productivity and service delivery.

It also seeks to digitize fiscal revenue collection, support a cashless society, and improve online education delivery, as well as investing in the national fiber network to expand and improve internet connectivity.

Ghana is prioritizing the promotion of increased digital literacy as it seeks to support Ghanaian technology entrepreneurs to build tech hubs and export IT-enabled services such as business process outsourcing.

Why Africa is looking for tech help outside the continent
Despite commanding a market of 1.4 billion people, African countries lack a common agenda for technology, with the African Union and regional organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), and the East African Community (EAC) all lacking clear strategies on how members can plug into the global digital economy.

Unable to produce quality tech products, Africa has been a ready tech market for developed economies—especially gadgets and software—oftentimes exploiting the continent’s data and only remitting tax to their home countries.

By joining the DCO, African countries could benefit from exchange programs such as digital skills training, data protection, intellectual copyright sharing, regulation, taxation, and entrepreneurship.

This, according to Rwanda’s permanent secretary to the DCO Yves Iradukunda, could enhance cross-border data flows, promote market expansion for SMEs, empower digital entrepreneurs, and advance digital inclusion among women and youth.

“We can therefore create an ecosystem of tech-talent sharing and this will attract investments in Africa’s private sector,” Irakunda told Quartz.

This Article first appeared on Quartz Africa