Digital co-operation is a cornerstone of the AU-EU strategic partnership.

This was underlined by representatives from the European Union and the African Union at the first Africa-Europe Digital for Development (D4D) Hub Multi-Stakeholder Forum, under the theme “Digital Transformation for Sustainable Development in Africa”.

The event, which took place virtually, was co-hosted by the African Union Commission and the European Commission with the aim of promoting exchanges and collaboration with private sector, enterprises, civil society organisations, and experts in the digital field from both continents.

Jutta Urpilainen, EU commissioner for international partnerships, comments: “In line with the Global Gateway Strategy, the EU will scale up investments, support innovation, and promote digital rights.

“Bridging the digital divide is key in fighting inequalities. To achieve this, we must work together with all our partners in the digital ecosystem.”

Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, AU commissioner for infrastructure and energy, comments: “The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of digital technologies, data and innovation to keep our businesses, healthcare, education and public services running among others.

“These exceptional times have also shown the urgency to invest in secure and affordable Africa’s digital infrastructure, digital skills, digital identity, data management and build on Africa’s innovation potential and entrepreneurship.

“The African Union welcomes the enhanced partnership with the European Union that is based on respect, transparency, equal opportunity, win-win approach and agreed tangible outcome and further engagement with African and European stakeholders to accelerate the digital transformation of our continent.”

The Africa-Europe D4D Hub Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Digital Transformation for Sustainable Development in Africa was held one month after the 6th European Union-African Union Summit, where leaders from both continents announced a EUR 150-billion Africa-Europe Investment Package which, among other priorities, aims to accelerate Africa’s sustainable digital transformation.

This ambition aligns with the EU Global Gateway, a strategy set out to boost smart, clean, and secure investments in connectivity, and the AU Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa 2020-2030, which aims to transform Africa’s economies and societies by harnessing digital technologies, the potential of data and innovation for the benefit of people.

It also supports the outcomes of the 35th AU Summit, held in February 2022, which called for the acceleration Africa’s quality infrastructure development.

Reports indicate that only 33% of African people use the Internet, compared to a world average of 63%. So closing the digital divide and connecting the unconnected meaningfully has become a top priority in AU-EU relations. Joint efforts are particularly needed to ensure that women, rural populations, and youth reap the benefits of the digital transformation.

A safe, sustainable, and inclusive digital transformation holds a great potential to support a green recovery and a more resilient economy. The AU-EU digital partnership can help address the pressing need to expand and deepen regional value chains and harmonise policies, legislation, and regulations, as well as safeguarding data sovereignty.

Participants at the forum also stressed the need to invest in digital skills to exploit the potential of digital innovation for decent job creation in the digital world. With 70% of Africa’s population under the age of 30, digital entrepreneurship offers untapped opportunities for youth.

Best practices were identified to steer multi-stakeholder collaborations for digital skills development and support of local innovation ecosystems.