Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG | Youth
March 5, 2019

In Ethiopia, impressive momentum for Africa’s digital transformation

By Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau

A couple of weeks ago, I came back from a memorable trip to Ethiopia. The country is a “hub” of opportunities for digital transformation, sustainable development and a source of inspiration for many.

As we drove on King Road, from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport – one of the busiest airports in Africa – I felt the energy of this bustling, transformative city.

Ethiopia is undergoing an impressive transformation and has embarked on a comprehensive set of reforms, which cut across political, economic and social areas. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed defined the change taking place in Ethiopia as “a period of political and economic renaissance”.

My visit to Addis, to co-chair the Smart Africa Steering Committee and attend the opening of the African Union Summit, was all about “digital transformation.”

Working together to expand progress

Africa is making remarkable progress in bringing more people online. Between 2005 and 2018, the continent recorded the world’s strongest growth in the number of people using the Internet.

But still, only 24% of the population is now online. We must continue the progress so that more of the continent’s people can reap the benefits of today’s digital economy.

Africa’s digital transformation needs all hands on deck. We need to work together and adopt an inclusive approach – between the public and private sectors, and across industries, if we want to address the digital divide.

As we know, many of those still offline are living in rural, remote communities where connectivity is difficult, often because of the terrain, but also because the return on investment in those areas is often poorer than the urban areas. We must find innovative approaches to change this equation.

Increasing connectivity across the continent will be critical to accelerating progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A people-centered approach

We need to put technology at the service of the people. And we need to do it in a responsible and sustainable way. People must be at the centre of our conversation.

In Addis, I had the honour to meet with President Sahle-Work Zewde. She is the first female President of the country and a great visionary leader. Her commitment to  cooperation on a range of issues relating to information and communication technologies (ICTs) is a great inspiration to all.

I also met with Dr Getahun Mekuria, Minister of Innovation and Technology, and discussed our collaboration on ICT development and digital transformation in Africa. We discussed innovative ways that governments can work with companies to overcome obstacles to connectivity – and ways that Ethiopia could work with ITU to accelerate progress.

In early February, Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers reviewed and passed a new proclamation establishing a new federal authority to regulate telecommunication services. The new proclamation, establishes the Ethiopian Telecommunications Regulatory Authority “an independent, transparent, and accountable regulatory authority” aimed at achieving “the government’s policy of restructuring the telecommunications market and introducing competition.” This is a great step to enhance ICT development and build an inclusive digital society.

I am looking forward to going back to Ethiopia on 25 April to celebrate International Girls in ICT Day 2019. I cannot think of a better place to celebrate this important day.

See you soon, wonderful and inspiring Ethiopia!

Doreen Bogdan-Martin is the Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.


Featured photo: Sidamo, Ethiopia by Trevor Cole
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In Ethiopia, impressive momentum for Africa's digital transformation

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