The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us, a period in which data and data flows are increasingly transforming the way people work and interact with others in society. With the digitalisation of information becoming a key driver of economic activity in many parts of the world, it is now common to speak of the ‘digital economy’.
If skilfully leveraged, the digital economy has enormous potential to fast-track development in Africa, enabling the continent to ‘catch up’ with developed economies. Much work is being done by African countries at the policy level to tap into the power of advancing technologies, while the G20, BRICS and other groupings have made digital transformation the centrepiece of several of their work streams. For all its potential to provide new pathways to development, the digital economy is also inherently divisive. Without the necessary checks and balances, it can create a ‘digital divide’ which sharply contradicts efforts to address the high levels of inequality on the continent. The digital divide is not confined to those countries directly affected by it. It has global economic implications and therefore requires collective solutions.