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1st Edition of the Africa Digital Economy Forum: the Digital Economy at the Heart of the Challenges of a Changing Africa

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The first edition of the Africa Digital Economy Forum, organized by La Tribune Afrique in partnership with Huawei, was held online on Thursday, December 2, 2021. The objective of the event was to put the digital economy at the heart of Africa's challenges, and to lead to concrete actions, both in terms of investments and regulation of the digital sector.

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His Excellency the President of the Republic of Senegal, Mr. Macky SALL, welcomed the event, which he said is part of the promotion of "the digital economy in Africa around themes such as digital strategy and training, training of talent, network infrastructure and innovation.

The event began with two speeches by Delphine CHENE, President of La Tribune Afrique and Catherine CHEN, Vice President and Director of the Board of Directors of Huawei. Stressing the ties that unite Huawei to the African continent, Catherine Chen recalled the Group's ambition in terms of social responsibility: "We assume our social responsibility through major investments throughout the world, and more specifically in Africa. For example, we are positioning ourselves in Senegal by supporting 60 schools, just as we are contributing to the construction of innovative infrastructures in Ethiopia. Thus, on the African continent, Huawei wants to be a development partner, able to accompany the continent in the expression of its full potential.”

This was followed by debates led by prestigious speakers, including Roger ADOM, Minister of Digital Economy, Telecommunications and Innovation of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, Yankhoba DIATTARA, Minister of Digital Economy and Telecommunications of Senegal, Papa Amadou SARR, Minister-Delegate General for Rapid Entrepreneurship of Women and Youth of Senegal, Alpha BARRY President and CEO of Atos Africa, Cristina DUARTE, Special Advisor to the United Nations for Africa, Catherine CHEN, Vice President and Director of the Board of Huawei, Colin HU, President Cloud & AI of Huawei Northern Africa, Mohamed BEN AMOR - Secretary General AICTO, Mohammed Tawfik MOULINE, Director General of the Royal Institute for Strategic Studies, Huria ALI MAHDI, Ethiopian Minister of Technology and Innovation, Lacina KONÉ, Director General of Smart Africa, Élisabeth MEDOU-BADANG, Area Director and Spokesperson for Orange in Africa and the Middle East, Malek KOCHLEF, Director General of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Higher Education of Tunisia, Amane DANNOUNI, Managing Director & Partner in BCG, Professor Mohamed AYMAN ASHOUR, Omar SEGHROUCHNI, President of the CNDP.

The event was marked by the holding of several round tables, keynotes and other structuring speeches, highlighting the main issues of the digital economy, such as the acceleration of the development of digital infrastructure in Africa, the prospects of the digital economy, or the training of talent needed for the digital development of the continent.

Colin HU, President Cloud & AI of Huawei Northern Africa, said, "Digitization is a journey: for the city, it has social value, while for businesses, it has business value. That's why Huawei is committed to promoting it through investments, but also through in-depth studies. Our reports, such as "Intelligent World 2030", can serve as a reference in this area. They are intended to guide or at best inspire public and private organizations in their strategy.”

As part of this path to digitalization, infrastructure is the sine qua none of Africa's digital development and is crucial to accelerate connectivity. Roger ADOM, Minister of Digital Economy, Telecommunications and Innovation of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, said: "Strengthening the digital economy in Africa will require strong inter-state collaboration. Promising and extensive initiatives are already in place, such as Smart Africa. Through this project, states share best practices in a partnership approach. Close collaboration between the public and private sectors is also required to generate sustainable investments and accelerate the continent's development.”

Yankhoba DIATTARA, Minister of Digital Economy and Telecommunications of Senegal recalled that "in Africa, the penetration rate of the Internet is 39.8%, while 30% of the continent's population lives in an area of connectivity without having access to it - mainly because of high costs. This is why we believe that connectivity must be accompanied by affordability. If we win this challenge, Africa can reach 70% connectivity. More than the quality of the infrastructure, the availability of access for all strata of African societies must be taken into account.”

Beyond the essential role of infrastructure, the Africa Digital Economy Forum was also the scene of a deep reflection on the importance of training young talent in the digital sector. In his speech, Papa Amadou SARR, Minister, General Delegate for Rapid Entrepreneurship of Women and Youth of Senegal presented the African continent as "aware of the fact that it is necessary to train its youth, 60% of the total population, in order to meet the growing demands of the labor market, each day more professional. To do this, it is necessary to focus on training policies, while prioritizing the teaching of skills related to new technologies.”

Beyond Senegal, Ethiopia has also given itself the ambition to become a heavyweight in the digital sector in Africa, as underlined by Huaria Ali Mahdi, Minister of Technology and Innovation of Ethiopia: "We want to make Ethiopia the digital center of Africa in the sectors of agriculture, tourism and industry. According to him, "while the digital economy is transforming African societies, each nation has a different context and needs. Thus, each country must have its own strategy to ensure sustainable development.”

As evidenced by this Forum, digitization is becoming increasingly important in Africa, as the continent is increasingly giving itself the means to strengthen its sovereignty. Lacina KONE, Managing Director of Smart Africa, explained that "throughout Africa, a real political will has emerged at the level of heads of state, to seize the train of what is already called the 4th industrial revolution. This is a welcome dynamic: we are convinced that governance within the digital transformation must be at the center of socio-economic development of all African nations. More than ever, decision-making bodies must base their strategies on the digital economy."

To conclude this 1st edition of the Africa Digital Economy Forum, Cristina DUARTE, Special Advisor for Africa at the UN, highlighted the role of the health crisis in the digital transformation in Africa: "The Covid-19 pandemic is an ordeal of opportunity: it has planted the seeds of a new imagination of the African economic structure on a large scale, accelerating trends such as digitization. Change is underway across Africa: the continent must seize the digital transformation underway to access the development it seems promised.”

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