The Digitalization Conversation

On 2nd November 2021, the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana: Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia delivered a public lecture at Ashesi University on the topic “Using digitization to transform an economy” He highlighted the digitization drive and initiatives undertaken by the government in formalizing the economy as a driver for a sustainable digital economy. The 65 pages, 1.5 hour-long speech highlighted important elements of Ghana’s digital economy; the unique identification system (Ghana card), domestic revenue mobilization, the introduction of Ghana.gov, digital address system, digitization of birth and death registry, proposed e-pharmacy, national health insurance, driver and vehicle licensing, medical supply deliveries and many more. The lecture has drawn public commentary, with some of the conversations limited whilst other parts of the conversation are political and subject to swings and distortions. The digital transformation set out by the government deserves commendation as it positions the country in charting a course for progressive prosperity and positive national transformation.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, digitalization is of the key elements for building an economy and a powerful tool to accelerate the 2030 agenda for sustainable development goals. Other global reports estimate that an increase of 10 percent in a country’s digitalization score fuels 0.75 percent growth in Gross Domestic Product per capita. Covid-19 has further underscored the importance of the digital economy in driving economic growth and increasing productivity. This will unlock a lot of opportunities, business opportunities, easier access to financial assistance, increased foreign investment, meaningful mortgages, and more.

Concerns

At the heart of all this conversation is digital literacy which has been left out, Digital literacy primarily refers to being able to understand and use technology. Yes, the government of Ghana has made efforts and investments but they are barely scratching the surface.

  • How have we prioritized digital education in this country?
  • How are we building skills to underpin the digital revolution we are seeing?

Digital skills, training, and capacity building play a key role in equipping one with the tools needed to participate in an increasingly digitally-enabled economy and society. Closely related to this digital literacy problem is a digital divide. The term digital divide is defined by Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as the gap between individuals, households, businesses, and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels about both their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities. According to Statista, Internet penetration in Ghana is estimated at 50 percent, with about 15.7 million users. So, where does this leave the remaining 50 percent who are unserved and many underserved?

The digital divide breeds elitism, where only the privileged can access services and platforms and fully attain their digital aspirations. While we laud the efforts of the Ghana Investment Fund For Electronic Communications (GIFEC) under the Ministry of Communications and Digitalization, in bridging the digital divide between the served and unserved/underserved communities in Ghana, the development and evolution has been very slow and lacked the spark. Indeed, digitalization is the way to go and if the digital transformation agenda is the path, it needs to harness the power of technology to transform the economy and ensure that everyone enjoys the benefits. We must leave no one behind in the process. We need to scale up digital capacity for Ghanaians to take advantage.

Additionally, the technical infrastructure is a big challenge and an important building block in the whole digitalization process, but it seems we are doing more software applications with little to no focus on technical infrastructure. Studies, however, have shown that the digital economy will grow faster than the traditional economy, and a major driver of that is having capable technical and digital infrastructures — which will also cut costs.  Internet backbone, data centers, and networks, cloud services, software, cyberinfrastructure, artificial intelligence, machine learning, operational security, user identity, and data encryption must all receive significant investment from Government.

Furthermore, for digitalization to have the huge and desired impact we all envision, there must be a culture of reception and adoption by the users of that technological service. The digitalization processes must take into account the socio-economic specificities and how people and culture embrace them within the scope of technology and provision of services. Formal or informal education with local content and local languages must feature prominently. Studies from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO ) have shown that education (formal and informal) adoption is key in integrating and adopting technological services. This same report underscores how local languages act as a barrier in accessing digital services in Africa.

To conclude, digitizing an economy is a long, expensive and difficult journey. Private-public partnership is a key to accelerating this growth and achieving a sustainable digital economy. Government, thus, must work with the Chamber of Technology and relevant stakeholders like the Institute for ICT Professionals Ghana to promote collaborative approaches to digital policies and strategies in a concerted, collaborative, inclusive bottom-up approach that welcomes debates in shaping our digital landscape. Ghana is behind in the digitalization of the economy we tout and cannot yet rub shoulders with some developed countries if it does not consider the above points raised.

 

Author: Osei Manu Kagyah, Member, Institute for ICT Professionals Ghana

For comments, contact Email: kagyahosei@gmail.com