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Make internet affordable in Africa, and the skills will soon follow

Olansis Mulugeta Wolde's picture
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Since the beginning of the Digital Revolution, people have been wondering about digitization of the workplace and how it relates to production and employment. Although a significant number of people want to box the idea of digitizing workplaces into waging war on blue collar jobs, the reality couldn’t be far from that argument.

In Africa, where human labor is still considered as a cheap commodity to capitalize on, workplaces are changing, and digital jobs are popping up frequently than usual. Hence, it is imperative for African youth to acquire the necessary skills so that they can be competent and productive in the digital economy.

So what are these “necessary” skills that the world keeps talking about? Should we leap over to teaching Africa’s youth high-level programming? Or is it investing more the STEM streams in an attempt to get more engineers and scientists?

Although teaching programming and investing in STEMs might not be a bad idea, doing that alone still wouldn’t move us an inch when it comes to the developing the skills we will need to capitalize on the digital economy.

The first (and perhaps the biggest) challenge in Ethiopia—and many African countries—when it comes to acquiring such skills, is that most young people do not understand the digital economy phenomenon. In simple terms, people don’t take it seriously. In most African countries, setting up a tech start up is far more difficult that getting a license to be a merchant. This passive indifference to the reality of digital economy by the politicians in Africa is what is keeping the youth from acquiring the skills of digital economy.

To solve this, we need politicians and leaders in Africa who understand what the digital economy is and the urgency of making it an “African reality.” This can be manifested by investing heavily in digital literacy in primary schools. Kids who grow up learning in a digital environment can acquire the necessary skills to operate effectively in a digital economy.

Secondly, African countries, and particularly Ethiopia, must provide its citizens with affordable broadband internet on a massive scale. The internet has made it possible for knowledge to flow across boundaries seamlessly. It is now possible to get a degree online, learn how to be a good cook by watching YouTube, or even launch a successful business with nothing but a laptop and a decent internet connection. Unfortunately, most Africans are still in the dark due to lack of internet access. By providing youth an affordable internet, African nations and Ethiopia can equip their young citizens with tools needed to succeed in the digital economy.

In conclusion, the digital economy is coming for Africa, and in doing so, it will bring big opportunities and some challenges along with it. By Investing in digital literacy and providing affordable internet to the youth, it is possible to usher a new era of digital economy in Africa along with a competent young generation that has the skills to drive it and be a backbone of the economy.
Olansis M. Wolde, an Ethiopian national, is a winner of the World Bank Africa’s 2019 Blog4Dev competition
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