Unlocking data for African prosperity: Strategies to address risks and leverage opportunities



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The Africa Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF) is a regional initiative that brings together different stakeholders to address internet-related issues in Africa. This year it took place in Abuja, Nigeria from September 19-21, 2023.

The Datasphere Initiative, in collaboration with the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), organized a roundtable titled “Unlocking Data for African Prosperity: Strategies to Address Risks and Leverage Opportunities” at the event. The session identified data-sharing challenges and opportunities to increase data-sharing in Africa while safeguarding privacy and empowering people. 

This blog shares the key takeaways from this insightful discussion and explores ways to leverage opportunities.

There is a need to harmonize data-sharing policies in Africa

Diana Sang, Regional Director for Africa at the Digital Impact Alliance, moderated the session and addressed the need for harmonizing data-sharing policies across African states. She underscored the importance of public-private partnerships to support cross-border data flows, and raised important questions to consider in this regard. 

“We have seen public-private partnerships work in different areas. But how do we engage and build these partnerships when it comes to data? What should governments put in place to support these collaborations?” asked Diana Sang. 

In this context, Jacqueline Tsuma, Digital Country Support Lead, UNDP Nigeria, presented the Data Policy Navigator, an initiative supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit  (GIZ), as a successful model for cross-sectoral collaboration. This platform brings data from the public and private sectors to help governments and policymakers make decisions to address societal, environmental, and economic pressing challenges.

“African governments are starting to see the benefits of open data, which is enabling them to move forward.” shared Jaqueline Tsuma. 

Dr. Jimson Olufuye, CEO of Kontemporary Konsulting, discussed the role of the private sector in adapting cross-border data-sharing regulations and showcased innovative solutions for data-sharing complexities. He also called for multistakeholder collaboration to address policy challenges.

“Stakeholders, like the technical community, civil society and public and private sectors, have to work together to address these issues.” said Dr. Jimson Olufuye. 

Africa holds an enormous potential for data value creation

One of the central themes of the session was the growing recognition that responsible data sharing can boost economic participation in Africa. Data is not just about personal information but also includes non-personal data. To harness the full potential of data, an enabling environment and harmonization are essential. Prof. Alison Gillwald, the Executive Director of Research ICT Africa, underscored the importance of establishing open data frameworks and creating environments that encourage community participation, to unlock the value of data for all across the continent.

“It’s important to get open data frameworks that enable people’s participation. It’s key to include these communities to create these enabling environments.” highlighted Alison Gillwald.

Alison Gillwald pointed out that there are imbalances in regard to data flows in Africa, with most of the data still leaving the continent. In this regard, Africa has to find ways to harness its data and extract value from it. The continent holds immense potential for data value creation, provided that the right enabling environment is established, and harmonization occurs at the necessary scale and scope. 

“There is a lot of non-personal data that can provide value, but it doesn’t happen without an enabling environment and harmonization in the continent.” said Alison Gillwald.

Unlocking the value of data for all requires innovation

Responsibly unlocking the value of data for all in Africa requires innovative solutions and collaboration with regional partners. The Datasphere Initiative has launched the Africa Forum on Sandboxes to test sector-specific challenges in areas such as sustainability, health, AI, finance, and mobility, within a secure sandbox environment. This approach enables stakeholders to identify and address issues that must be resolved for scaling these solutions effectively across borders.

“Our ambition is to build a Global Sandboxes Forum to share experiences around Africa, Europe, Asia, LatAm… In Africa, we operationalize the notion of responsibly unlocking the value of data for all, through our Africa Sandboxes project.” shared Lorrayne Porciuncula, Executive Director of the Datasphere Initiative, who invited partners to join this effort

Lorrayne highlighted that governance stands out as a significant challenge in sharing data across borders, with many solutions and arrangements not being put into practice. The Africa Forum on Sandboxes, supported by the Hewlett Foundation, aims to operationalize concepts and principles into practical solutions. This involves creating a secure space for testing these solutions and sharing valuable practices within policymakers and regulators. 

“The biggest challenge of data-sharing revolves around governance rather than technology. For example, identifying stakeholders, developing and scaling solutions, and fostering trust among these stakeholders.” concluded Lorrayne Porciuncula.

The road ahead

Africa’s path to unlocking the value of data for all includes harmonizing policies, fostering intersectoral partnerships, leveraging open data policies while securing privacy, addressing imbalances, and promoting innovation. These actions are vital to create a future where data contributes to prosperity and benefits everyone in Africa.

By adopting these strategies, Africa can ensure the responsible sharing of data and create an environment where data’s potential is fully realized, fostering economic growth, societal progress, and inclusive participation in the data-driven economy. 

  • Watch the recording of the session (from 1:12:30) here.
  • More information about the session here.
  • Learn more about the Datasphere Initiative Africa Forum on Sandboxes here.
  • Enroll in the Online Course on Sandboxes for Data here.

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