African Governments Tasked on Digital Inclusion

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Emma Okonji in Tanzania

African governments have been enjoined to collaborate with the private sector in creating an enabling environment that will help boost digital inclusion for the continent.

Head, Mobile for Development at GSMA, Yasmina McCarty told journalists at a round table session at the GSMA 360 Africa conference in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania that majority of the African people who dwell in rural communities, were yet to be connected, thus creating huge connectivity gap between the urban dwellers and the rural dwellers.

McCarty emphasised the need for African governments to revisit their tax policies and reduce taxes imposed on telecoms services. She said a study on mobile tax reforms carried out on some African countries in 2015 by GSMA, showed that the reduction in taxes in some African countries like Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Tanzania and Tunisia, brought about significant impact on the growth of telecommunications in those countries.

According to her, in DRC, the abolition of excise tax of 10 per cent on mobile services resulted in additional 3.2million connections, contributed $970million to the GDP and $28million to tax revenue.

She said in Ghana, the reduction in service tax on voice services resulted in additional 1.3 million connections and a contribution of $598 million to GDP as well as $0.67 million in tax revenue.

In Tanzania, the reduction in excise tax on mobile services from 17 per cent to 10 per cent, she further noted, resulted in two million additional connections and a contribution of $549million in GDP and $11million to tax revenue.

Similarly, in Tunisia, the abolition of the 5 per cent industry fee on mobile services, resulted in additional 0.4 million connections, a contribution of $314million in GDP and $22million in tax revenue.

She therefore urged other African governments to consider reducing or completely abolishing taxes on mobile services in their various countries.

McCarty listed four key factors that would drive digital inclusion in Africa as: Development of relevant content, Digital skills acquisition, Network coverage in rural areas, and Affordable devices and services. She also said that the industry would need to address mobile-specific taxation to help make internet access more affordable, especially for low income earners.

According to her, network coverage can be enhanced by expanding mobile broadband networks to underserved population groups by promoting infrastructure sharing, regulatory best practice and technical innovation.

McCarty said communities should be trained to enable them understand the benefits and opportunities of being online and have skills to use mobile internet. On relevant local content, she said there was need to encourage and promote development of content and services that are relevant to underserved population groups.

She said the consumer, the telecoms operator and the government must collaborate to drive digital inclusion in Africa.

She raised the concern that low income earners in rural communities that cannot afford to pay for high cost of telecoms services, occasioned by high taxation on telecoms services by governments, are completely left behind from the digital inclusion, insisting that such group of people must be part of the mobile digital revolution that is currently sweeping the globe.

MacCarty also spoke on the need to close the gender gap in Africa on mobile money and mobile internet access, in order to reduce the gender gap.

“Additional nine operators have been added to the GSMA’s Connected Women Commitment Initiative, which focuses on reducing the gender gap in mobile internet and mobile money services,” she said.

She listed the operators to include Orange Mali, Smart Burundi, Smart Tanzania, Smart Uganda, Tigo Chad, Tigo Ghana, Tigo Senegal, Tigo Tanzania and Zantel.
GSMA launched the Connected Women Initiative in February this year. Before the launch, the GSMA was already working on projects that saw 15 million women benefiting from female-focused services offered by Connected Women operator partners.