Despite the economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic on African economies, there is no doubt that the continent has the potential to recover given the fact that with a large youth population it promises to be a major consumption market in the years ahead with significant capacity for growth.

However, it urgently needs to achieve faster economic growth in order to create jobs, grow its export revenue and become more globally competitive. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which came into effect earlier this year after being delayed in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, aims to promote trade on the continent by creating the largest free trade area globally. It plans to remove some of the main obstacles to intra-African trade including weak productive capacities, limited economic diversification and remove or reduce trade tariffs. Estimations are that the agreement could result in a 2 to 4{32cab40226fb9659b52e7925d8240640c7cae90b58a254f5ffce23f5dca80369} increase in the continent’s combined GDP and make a significant dent in alleviating poverty and creating employment with manufacturing potentially doubling in size and creating millions of new jobs.

Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic the IMF and World Bank had cut their economic growth projections for sub-Saharan Africa with the latter projecting that if poverty reductions measures were not put in place and if growth remained sluggish, that Africa would be home to 90{32cab40226fb9659b52e7925d8240640c7cae90b58a254f5ffce23f5dca80369} of the world’s poor by 2030.

For Africa to take advantage of AfCFTA and achieve its potential requires that the continent takes advantage of emerging digital technologies and puts growth initiatives in place in order to accelerate its growth trajectory. Critically, it needs to take advantage of the lessons learned from other countries and focus on proven technologies.

In the continent’s favour is the fact that it is mobile-phone enabled. Mobile and Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies represent a unique opportunity for African countries to leapfrog certain development hurdles. However, according to the African Development Bank’s Hanan Horsy, it is only once African countries have overhauled the continent’s education systems and set up their societies for a digital overhaul that it will be able to effectively reap the benefits of new technologies.

Education systems need to be better aligned to producing the skills required of businesses. Some countries are making more impressive strides in this regard than others. In Egypt, for example, around 2 500 remotely situated schools have high-speed Internet access with solar-powered ‘smart’ classrooms with the help of advanced mobile technologies.

The African Development Bank, in collaboration with academic institutions, is currently conducting research on how to ensure African education systems are more agile and responsive.

Throughout the continent, there is a growing realisation that new technologies must be developed for mobile given that it is the device most of the continent’s citizens have access to. There is no question that the biggest success story of the African technology sector is that of M-Pesa, a mobile money platform, which provides financial services to millions of previously unbanked citizens primarily in East Africa in the process boosting economic growth.

For its part, the agricultural sector is already harnessing mobile and digital technologies to improve agricultural productivity. Using mobile smartphones they are able to access crucial information and data, including trading opportunities.

Digital technologies are also being utilised to provide improved services. In Rwanda, for example, the government is working with Zipline, a delivery company specialising in providing access to vital medical supplies, to administer drug and blood testing through drones. Or consider Zindi, a social enterprise whose mission is to build a data science ecosystem in Africa, which aims to solve the region’s most pressing problems based on best practice.

Mobile technologies, it appears, could well be the levers that accelerate economic growth on the continent.