In the framework of the European Development Days 2022, the AU-EU Digital for Development (D4D) Hub organised a brainstorming session on 21 June, bringing together some 35 representatives of civil society, governments, private sector, media and academia. The purpose of the session was to provide a platform for all stakeholders to openly discuss how to promote a human-centric digital transformation in the context of Africa-Europe relations.
Through a participatory process, participants were invited to collectively define the elements needed to promote a digital partnership guided by the principles of inclusiveness, full participation, privacy, security and real choice, as well as sustainability. Below are the main takeaways of their insights.
1. Connectivity and equal access are a pre-requisite for an inclusive digital transformation
Despite recent growth in internet connectivity, Africa lags behind other regions of the world. Therefore, investing in connectivity was identified as an urgent priority to close the digital divide. In this sense, participants stressed the importance of not only providing the necessary infrastructure and services, but making sure that everyone (including rural communities and other underserved groups) can afford and access internet connectivity.
2. We need digital governance frameworks to protect and empower people
The digital transformation must be safe, respectful of future generations, and able to evolve and adapt in response to the changes that will inevitably come through, participants said. To that effect, they called for the private sector to be held accountable and to ensure that companies respect people’s digital rights. They also highlighted the importance of safeguarding the online civic space and strengthen civil society’s ability to influence digital policy at different levels and in different spaces.
The digital transformation needs to be designed in a bottom-up approach with local actors, considering the full socio-economic diversity that exists and ensuring no power imbalances. The EU, according to participants, has the capacity to become the partner of choice in a new relationship paradigm between the two continents by protecting people’s rights. In this regard, fostering hybrid public-private collaborations through transparent and structured channels for exchange is of great importance.
3. Investing in digital skills can help close the (gender) digital divide
Ensuring connectivity for everyone is a must and yet, it will still not be sufficient, participants said. Having the tools and infrastructure is a good first step, but it needs to be followed by building capacity for the entire population to be able to use them.
Participants also stressed the importance of equal access to digitalisation and skill development regardless of gender, age, disability, income level, education or language. They underscored the need for women, girls, and women’s organisations to be given the space to share what they need from technology. To achieve this, they called for a better understanding of the digital gender gap to create effective and meaningful solutions, and for the involvement of different groups of people in the design of digital technology.