East Africa, European Union tap into digital tech to fuel growth

The two blocs admit digitalisation has the potential for addressing challenges, creating opportunities and building a sustainable and prosperous future for all.  

SUNDAY October 8, 2023

Digital tools for marketing. PHOTO | REDKITE

By Patty Magubira

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

The East African Community (EAC) and the European Union (EU) have jointly devised a roadmap for enhancing digitalisation in the East African region.

The drive is billed to accelerate the East African integration agenda and, more importantly, leapfrog Sustainable Development Goals.

It will not only see the EAC partner states connected into a single digital market, but the entire region also becoming interoperable with the EU come 2030.

Different systems, software, components and entities will be communicating, collaborating, exchanging information and functioning without the need for compatibility.

Digital for Development (D4D) Hub, the EU strategic platform for promoting digital transformation, and European partners are at the centre of the journey of turning this dream into reality.


The D4D Hub brought together players from the EAC, partner states, EU Embassy and EU member states to Arusha, Tanzania, recently to ponder ways of tapping into the digitalisation rhetoric.

The meeting came up with a short, medium and long-term action steps for each player to pursue the journey of developing the regional seamless digital cross-border trade.

The D4D Hub identified six key technical pillars for the journey, namely data governance, e-governance and cybersecurity, e-commerce, ICT regulation, entrepreneurship and innovation and digital skills.

The technical pillars are actually in line with the EAC own vision of developing green and secure data centres, establishing comprehensive electronic cross-border health services and creating systems for cross-border e-payment, Dr Peter Mathuki, the Secretary General of the intergovernmental organisation comprising seven member states, said.

If implemented, the digital transformation journey will, indeed, increase trade among the EAC partner states themselves and with the EU and other trading blocs.

The East African Community Secretary General, Dr Peter Mathuki, believes digital tools, technologies and services will increase trade among partner states and with the EU. PHOTO | PATTY MAGUBIRA

The intra-EAC trade has of late been on an upward trajectory, growing from 13 per cent in 2019 at a value of $7.1 billion to 15 per cent in 2021 at a value of 9.5 billion and to $10.17 billion, representing 20 per cent share to global trade.

“This is underpinned by digital skills, innovation, infrastructure, financing, and a conducive legal and regulatory environment,” said Dr Mathui, adding:

“Achieving this requires digitalisation in various sectors and integration platforms.” He said the initiative was crucial for effective implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

“To achieve this, we must, among other things, establish political agreements and fair platforms for an interoperable regional digital market.

“Our partner states also need to agree on regulations to foster digital markets, including data governance and artificial intelligence standards.”

Ms Christine Grau, the European Union envoy to Tanzania and the East African Community, sees the the potential for digital tools, technologies and services addressing challenges, creating opportunities and becoming enablers for growth. PHOTO | PATTY MAGUBIRA

Ms Christine Grau, the EU Ambassador to Tanzania, said European partners were committed to support the digital transformation of East Africa and global partners to harness the potential of digital technologies for addressing challenges, creating opportunities and building a sustainable and prosperous future for all.

She said the European Commission’s D4D approach recognised the potential of the digital tools, technologies and services as powerful enablers for sustainable and inclusive development and growth worldwide.

What digital tools, technologies and services can do

Digitalisation can accelerate development in several ways. Digital tools, technologies and services streamline processes, reducing manual labour and the time required for completing tasks.

Such efficiency can increase productivity and quicken development in manufacturing, healthcare and government’s services, among other sectors.

They provide easier access to vast amounts of information and data, enabling better decision-making and problem-solving. Such access to knowledge can expedite research, innovation and development in many fields.

The European envoy to Tanzania and the East Africa Community, Ms Christine Grau (Seventh Left), and the East Africa Community Secretary General, Dr Peter Mathuki (Eighth Left), pose for a picture with members of the team tasked to transform East Africa digitally. PHOTO | PATTY MAGUBIRA

Digital tools, technologies and services connect people, businesses, and governments on a global scale, facilitating collaboration, trade and exchange of ideas and as a result, fostering economic growth and development.

Digital technologies also are catalysts for innovation, enabling development of new products, services and business models to drive economic growth and improve quality of life.

E-commerce and online marketplaces enable small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, to reach a broader customer base, resulting into business growth and development.

Digitalisation offers online education and training opportunities, allowing individuals to acquire new skills and knowledge more quickly.

This can, in turn, enhance employability and contribute to personal and societal development.

The East Africa Community (EAC) Secretary General, Dr Peter Mathuki (Right), stresses a point as the European envoy to Tanzania and the EAC, Ms Christine Grau, pays attention to the conversation. PHOTO| PATTY MAGUBIRA

Digital financial services, like mobile banking and digital wallets, can provide access to financial services for underserved populations.

This can promote economic development by increasing savings, investments, and access to credit.

Digitalisation generates vast amounts of data for entities to use for analysing and making informed decisions. The data-driven approach leads to more effective policies and strategies for development.

Digital health technologies enable remote consultations, diagnostics and monitoring, improving access to healthcare services, especially in remote or underserved areas.

Digital technologies can help to monitor and manage environmental resources more efficiently, contributing to sustainable development practices.

Nonetheless, the digitalisation potential for fast tracking development comes with challenges, including the digital divide and concerns surrounding data privacy and security.

Addressing these challenges is the surest way for digital tools, technologies and services to support inclusive development for the benefit of all members of the societyΩ

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