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Vodacom decries Africa’s restrictive digital economy policies

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Africa’s restrictive policies and practices continue to hinder the growth of the digital economy, along with the related socio-economic benefits across the continent.

This is one of the biggest takeaways from a white paper published yesterday by Vodacom Group in partnership with AUDA-NEPAD, titled “Enabling policy frameworks for digital and data services for expanded economic growth and development – a focus on the SADC region”.

The paper highlights that one of the keys to unlocking Africa’s digital economic growth, and resulting digital financial inclusion, is to create an enabling regulatory environment that supports the secure flow of data between jurisdictions.

Vodacom is one of the leading African connectivity, digital and financial services companies. From its roots in SA, it has grown its business to include operations in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Lesotho and Kenya.

“An enabling regulatory environment for digital, cloud and data services that ensures appropriate free flow of data between jurisdictions should be a priority for any country which has its development as a viable digital economy as a key objective,” says Stephen Chege, chief officer for external affairs at Vodacom Group.

“The importance of free data flows within the context of the fourth industrial revolution and its unique economic value cannot be overemphasised. The enablement of secure and easily facilitated cross-border data flows is a strong predictor for African Union (AU) member states to successfully compete in the global economy and thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.”

United stance

The Vodacom Group and AUDA-NEPAD propose a regional approach, enabled by collaborative cross-border data-sharing, to allow “near real-time visibility of the flow of food and essential goods at a global and local level”.

To build a viable digital economy, the organisations say policy-makers should prioritise the secure and easily facilitated flow of cross-border data through an enabling regulatory environment.

However, they note that many AU member states are not yet facilitating this flow.

The white paper highlights the current approach to cross-border data transfers within SADC and other selected countries, and draws on contextualised international best practice for guidance, to offer recommendations that policy-makers across the continent can apply to create the necessary supportive regulatory environment, Chege says.

“Data regulations that are purposefully similar in concept, terminology and application with that of other jurisdictions ensure both economically and socially beneficial outcomes for the businesses and individuals of those jurisdictions and allow for more effective regulation by the relevant authorities.”

He adds that data protection regulation that is considerate of the above ensures the enablement and improvement of trust and trade in the cross-border movement of data.

These areas of focus for policy-makers are interdependent and should be addressed in a way that harmonises laws and policy with the benefits of enabling cross-border data flows, Chege observes.

If market barriers caused by restrictive and low levels of data protection laws are addressed, enterprises will be able to bring cross-border services to market, which will allow for new, domestically incorporated SMEs that do not have the resources of their larger international counterparts to compete fairly and effectively, he adds.

According to Chege, without improving the interoperability between data protection laws, the friction in making connections between countries and networks will only increase as more enterprises or service providers enter the market.

“Without addressing security and trust in cross-border data flows, cyber attacks and fraud will disrupt enterprises and governments across borders. Consistency in policy and law will ensure those who perpetrate these cyber crimes are not afforded safe havens from which to conduct such operations.

“In other words, globally-recognised standards and principles that are expressed in regional frameworks will ensure opportunistic cyber criminals will have less room to exploit gaps in local cyber security and data protection standards.”

Delving deeper

The white paper notes that enabling cross-border data flows has the added benefit of allowing the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to better understand aspects such as fraud and cyber crime.

As such, data protection laws that enable regional facilitation of cross-border data flows are unified by one key factor; namely, intergovernmental co-ordination and co-operation.

“We have highlighted the benefits of enabling cloud services through cross-border data flows both from a social and economic perspective.

“Data protection authorities and governments, respectively, should have this as a key focus as we venture further into the fourth industrial revolution.

“Africa has a unique opportunity to start this process, as many countries on the continent are still developing, or have only recently developed their own data protection laws and regulations with the aim of protecting the individual or business to whom the data relates,” Chege concludes.

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13 Aug
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