Tanzania Needs Inclusive Digital Economy – Ndulu

Interview — Technology is growing fast globally and comes with opportunities and challenges.

Recently, the Pathways for Prosperity Commission on Technology and Inclusive Development released its reports about the digital age.

An academic director at the Pathways, Prof Benno Ndulu, formerly the Bank of Tanzania governor, speaks about the trends

What is the Pathways for Prosperity Commission all about and what is its mandate?

The Pathways for Prosperity Commission on Technology and Inclusive Development, led by Melinda Gates, Econet’s Strive Masiyiwa, and Indonesia’s finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, was launched in January 2018 and is hosted by Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government.

We are working to re-frame the global conversation on how technology will affect economies and societies, grounding it in hard evidence to help developing country governments navigate new digital pathways.

Over a two-year period, we are collaborating with developing country governments, private sector leaders and civil society to catalyse new conversations and support country-level solutions to make frontier technologies work for the world’s poorest and most marginalised people.

Recent research findings state that global conversations on the impact of frontier technologies are misleading and poorly framed, causing policy paralysis in developing countries. Can you explain this in the context of Tanzania?

Today the world is witnessing the rise of many new ‘frontier technologies’. Some of these innovations, such as advancements in robotics and machine learning, are affecting productions processes of goods and services.

Others, such as improved communications through virtual reality and internet of things, affect not only the wider systems of production but also how goods, services, and ideas are exchanged.

We are living through a moment in which these new technologies are radically transforming lives across the world in ways that would have been difficult to imagine even a few years ago.

According to the global narrative, manufacturing jobs – already a scarce commodity in Tanzania and across Africa – will disappear, depriving the continent of an elusive growth engine.

We believe that the evidence for these projected job losses is flawed and the digital age may in fact be Africa’s economic making.

However, countries in the region need to urgently develop the digital literacy of government and citizens, make substantial investments in high-quality infrastructure, and put the right regulation, taxation, data and competition policies in place to get ‘digital ready’.

In your opinion, is Tanzania digitally ready? What is being done to address this situation?

East Africa was the cradle of a revolution in mobile money and Tanzania has made huge strides in access to mobile phones and mobile financial services.

Tanzanian regulators took an enlightened approach of ‘test, monitor, then regulate’, allowing the telcoms operators to move into banking and offer these innovative mobile products that benefit the poorer sections of society.

In 2006, just 9 per cent of Tanzanians had access to financial services; by 2017, this had increased to more than 65 per cent.

This progress is dramatic, but it is not enough. Countries should now focus on more than just giving citizens access to mobile services, towards ensuring more effective use of technology.

The government in Tanzania is acutely aware of the need to get the foundations of digital readiness in place. It has made significant investments in infrastructure, building more than 10,000 kilometres of backbone fibre-optic network covering all regions and districts of the country.

This domestic network has in turn been connected to neighbouring countries and the global undersea network, hugely reducing the costs and improving the quality of digital services for citizens.

The Tanzanian government must now develop a strategy for an Inclusive Digital Economy that will guide the country’s priorities in this area. Embracing technology is a cross cutting issue that must be addressed across government, not restricted to a silo in one ministry or body.

It’s also something that can’t be achieved by government alone. That’s why we’re keen to support multi-stakeholder national dialogues in countries, bringing in key private sector figures, tech leaders, entrepreneurs and citizens, especially the youth, to design solutions that really work for each context.


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Publish date : 2018-11-02 06:30:58

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