The Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of six of Africa’s largest Mobile Network Operators convened at MWC Kigali to consider the opportunities and challenges for deeper partnerships with African governments to drive digital inclusion and mobile infrastructure development across the continent.
In consideration of these opportunities and challenges, the CEOs engaged with His Excellency President Paul Kagame, Head of State for the Republic of Rwanda, the MWC host and Chair of the Smart Africa board, who was supported by the Honourable Ms Paula Ingabire, the Rwanda Minister of Information and Communications and Innovation.
The CEOs noted the achievements made to date by the mobile sector against the aspirations and objectives of key global and continental goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Agenda 2063, and the Smart Africa’s Vision of creating a Single Digital Market by 2030.
The CEOs believe that a truly connected, dynamic Africa, enabled by the power of inclusive mobile connectivity, is within our collective grasp – but to make it a reality, and close the connectivity and usage gaps for good, deep political support will be required, across both existing and new partnerships. A key dependency is the need to build the right conditions for digital infrastructure investment across Africa.
Mobile technologies and services are key enablers for that vision. And tangible progress has been made. In the first 10 years of Agenda 2063 (2013-2023), mobile operators in Africa invested more than US$70 bn in building mobile infrastructure, bringing close to 85% of the African population into mobile broadband connectivity (compared to 95% global average). However, more than 680 million people, equivalent to three in five people (60%), live in areas covered by a mobile broadband network in Africa but do not subscribe to mobile broadband services.
Mobile operators in Sub-Saharan Africa invest US$ 6-8bn per year in capital expenditure, nearly 20% of their revenues, but significant additional investments are needed to achieve the ambitious targets of connecting everyone to the internet and digitally transforming Africa.
The CEOs today stated their commitment to collaborate with Africa’s nation-states’ transformational plans, placing added focus on four priority areas where governments, working in partnership with the mobile sector, have the opportunity to drive digital inclusion, economic growth and environmental transformation:
Priority 1: Driving inclusive connectivity through fiscal and other policy reforms.
Reforming fiscal policy will improve affordability for consumers and incentivise investments by operators given that taxes and fees account for 30% of industry revenues according to the GSMA Mobile Tax Policy and Digital Development report. While this may not be the means to an end, we also acknowledge and commit to the need to create a healthy competitive environment through other policy reforms such as infrastructure sharing, and national roaming among others.
Priority 2: Closing the Investment gap for building broadband infrastructure.
The World Bank projects that $100bn is required to achieve universal connectivity in Africa. The UN Broadband Commission in 2021, released the 21st Century Financing Models for Bridging Broadband Connectivity Gaps. We are working with the UN BB Commission to implement the recommendations, which require regulatory support for new financing models for the digital infrastructure and include all digital economy beneficiaries.
Priority 3: Environmental Impact.
Climate action is important to operators across SSA with MTN, Orange and Vodacom committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and Airtel Africa by 2050. These commitments include targets to approximately halve their carbon emissions over the next 10 years.
The Mobile Industry Commitment.
The industry currently contributes $170bn (8.1%) to GDP across the Sub-Saharan region and commits to spend another $75bn, which will yield an expected $210bn to Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP by 2030. Additionally, this will result in an additional 200 million unique mobile subscribers, taking the total population coverage to nearly 700 million by 2030 i.e. 50% penetration as a percentage of population. In line with the above, the industry pledges to develop partnerships aligned with the country’s priorities and their business objectives in the form of a social compact for creating shared value.
Achieving a connected Africa requires true partnership.
Success is a team game. And further political support, across the continent, is essential to register meaningful progress. This includes facilitating the right market structures and conditions to avoid unnecessary fragmentation and policies that support the investment environment needed for success.
Therefore, The CEOs call on African leaders and policymakers to partner on digital development with the mobile industry by reimagining existing structures and developing targeted new policies that accelerate the positive and inclusive impacts of mobile technologies to close the investment and usage gaps. For example:
1: Tax rationalization for the mobile industry through the development of targeted fiscal policy reforms that support economic growth and digital development, deepening digital and financial inclusion & aligned with national targets. E.g. removal of tax on low-cost smartphones and sector-specific tax.
2: Regulatory support to implement the recommendations of the UN Broadband Commission’s ‘21st Century Financing Models for Bridging Broadband Connectivity Gaps’. To promote investment models for digital infrastructure which include all digital economy beneficiaries.
3: Climate Action policies to improve access to renewable electricity for corporate buyers, are essential for the mobile industry to achieve their climate targets.
Today, the industry has come together at MWC Kigali to focus on these key priorities and commitments and drive meaningful policy progress in a spirit of cooperation, in a conversation with His Excellency Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and Smart Africa Board Chair.
Together, we believe passionately in the power of mobile to act as a catalyst for economic and social inclusion across Africa. We extend an open invitation to other African Heads of State to engage with us in driving solutions that focus on deepening digital and financial inclusion in the continent for the benefit of all African citizens.