The idea that African countries can leapfrog technologies is not new. Industry leaders, government officials and market analyst have all pointed to Africa’s potential, with mobile technology being a prime example. As COVID-19 prompts a re-examination of digital transformation and a need to kickstart economies impacted by lockdowns and changes in consumer behaviour, could Africa’s agility and approach to innovation help the continent adapt to so-called “new normal”?
The mobile revolution that swept the continent and resulted in “more Africans owning phones than having access to water or toilets,” according to Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at The Fletcher School, has been a driving force for digital transformation and investment on the continent, as well as a prime example of technological leapfrogging. Africans are more likely to pay for goods via mobile phone payment than people in other regions.
The African Leapfrog Index, a ranking created by Chakravorti and his team, examines how countries in Africa are harnessing digital technologies to boost their economies and ranks six countries according to their digital economic ecosystems. Currently, Kenya and South Africa top the list with Nigeria and Egypt following suit, and Rwanda and Ethiopia rounding out the six.
Chakravorti and his team point to the many opportunities that the continent has: a young population translating into a talented workforce, mobile phone-enabled and with an emerging digital ecosystem poised for growth. Yet much of that promise, he says, has not been fulfilled.
The research project looked at how African countries could “translate digital technology uptake into development and inclusive growth: jobs enabled by digital platforms, institutional drivers necessary for digital success, and the foundational digital potential of the country.”