Digital Economy and Africa’s Future — Tribute to Prof. Benno Ndulu

Digital Economy Is A Paradigm Shift In Economic Transformation and Inclusion — Prof. Benno Ndulu

First, why should Africa talk about Digital Economy, there over 400 million youths in Africa, two-thirds of those are unemployed and discouraged. 18 million youths are getting into the job market every year. Time is running out for African governments to do structural reforms to accommodate this massive growing population of youths at the productive age. Digital Economy creates an untraditional and disruptive approach to address Africa’s unemployment challenges while encouraging the creation of solutions that ensures inclusion in development.

Before Mobile Money being financially included was a privilege in rural and semi-urban Africa. According to FinInclusion.Org, Today almost six in 10 adults (56%) in Tanzania are financially included, almost all through mobile money accounts (55%) and the number is going up. Bank of Tanzania (BoT) under the leadership of Prof. Ndulu played a crucial role to promote financial inclusion. Their role was of a facilitator rather than a regulator to ensure the financial technologies excel in addressing financial inclusion at the grassroots level. He was a firm believer in digital banking solutions and the potential of startups in transforming Africa’s economy. There are more than 400 fintech startups currently operating in Africa.

Prof. Ndulu Meeting With Hon. Minister Prof. Joyce Ndalichako at Sahara Sparks 2019

Africa’s $180 Billion Internet Economy

Google and IFC Infographic on Africa’s Internet Economy Potential

Whether you are in Nairobi, Dar, Lilongwe, Lagos, or Cairo new career titles have emerged; digital influencers, digital marketers, digital founders, podcasters, digital travelers, YouTubers, digital lifestyle experts, entertainers, giggers, drop-shippers, etc. All these are non-traditional jobs that none of us would expect to emerge from social media platforms. The platform economy is real and Africa is reaping benefits out of it. You can also question the decentness and the quality of jobs offered by platforms such as Uber and Taxify but in reality, an African average youth would rather work on a ride-sharing app than staying idle at home.

Born Before Computers

Many people know Prof. Ndulu from the works he was doing as an economist behind the back he was doing a lot of work to push digital transformation for Africa’s prosperity. Prof. Ndulu was working with Pathways For Prosperity Commission as Co-Academic Director along with other global reputed transformational leaders; Strive Masiyiwa, Melinda Gates, Vera Songwe, etc. The commission’s role was to champion technology and digital transformation as tools for inclusive development strategically engaging with international development partners, developing country governments, private sector leaders, emerging entrepreneurs, and civil society. The mission was to encourage new conversations and the co-designing of country-level solutions aimed at making frontier technologies work for the benefit of the hyperlocal communities. Some of the impressive works by the commission include the report Charting Pathways for Inclusive Growth, From Paralysis to Preparation and Digital Diplomacy, Technology Governance For Developing Countries.

Sahara Sparks 2019 | Africa In The 4IR

Digital Economy is a Paradigm Shift

Digital Readiness is Key For Success

World Bank’s — Key Components of The Digital Ecosystem

To fully capitalize on Digital Economy, African countries need to have clear strategies and objectives on what they need to achieve in each of the components. Overemphasizing just one or two things in the ecosystem won’t take us anywhere. Also, it is important to know these components rely on each other. Without digital skills and literacy investing in digital infrastructure and platforms might not yield the intended results. For the digital economy to work you need to build an ecosystem that supports innovation; finance, people skills, policies, etc.

Startups, Regulations, Sandboxes and the Bigger Picture

Regulatory sandbox refers to live testing of new products or services in a controlled/test regulatory environment for which regulators may permit certain relaxations for the limited purpose of the testing.

A regulator who doesn’t understand how podcasting works will struggle to understand how to regulate podcaster. Policymakers need to learn and catch up very quickly. The idea is to create opportunities and not to be an obstacle. The only way we can be able to do that is through learning, unlearning, and relearning because technology is constantly evolving. We should also not be afraid to make mistakes and create rooms of learning. The bigger picture is you want a piece of pie for your youths for an economy that worth $180B. You can’t do that with crazy regulations.

People like Prof. Benno Ndulu don’t come into your life every day. It was an honor to know and work with him. May his beautiful soul Rest in Peace.


  • Thanks to my friends Balozi Arthur and Tinguely Mattli for helping us organize Africa in the 4IR leadership meeting in 2019.
  • My Team at Sahara Ventures will have a lot of stories to tell about these great people.

Entrepreneur, TZ Patriot, Loves Tech, Founder, Project Management Consulting firm, Co-Founded and Sahara Accelerator.

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