The African Union, in its just recently published Data Policy Framework, is examining ways to obtain more value from data processed in Africa and more importantly, looking for a way to optimise African inter-operations and develop or improve products and services coming out of Africa. This is evidenced by the copious suggestions laden in the framework. With the EU General Data Protection in place since May 2018, it is only right for the provision of a framework that fits the African market.
Techniques like promotion of data portability, leveraging existing regional efforts to support efficient broadband network coverage, prioritising politically neutral partnerships and a plethora of other fantastic ideas are embedded in the data policy framework. What particularly caught my attention is the promotion of research, development, and innovation in various data-based areas, including big data analytics, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and blockchain.
These ideologies are welcomed and of course, would lead the continent into the stratosphere of innovation and creation of economies with the intention to promote more entrepreneurial focus. Africa is indeed ripe for contribution to the advancement in world breaking technologies. If “data is global in nature”, then there is the need for African regulatory bodies, African institutions, and their various stakeholders to start organising and managing data with a global approach. Companies that would thrive in this generation would harness the use of data and extract all the attending value that can be derived from it.
The vision of the African Union, according to the data policy framework, is to transform “the potential of data to empower African countries, improve people’s lives; safeguard collective interests; protect (digital) rights; and drive equitable socio-economic development.” I think in practical terms this is achievable; however, it would take a top-to-bottom approach, and an agreement among member countries to work with various governments to ensure that this vision becomes a reality. If this is not done, the words in the framework would remain words on paper.
The framework highlights three main strategic approaches which include formulation, which is to identify policy challenges at high level, recommendations and actions; domestication, which aims to build strategies for progressive realisation of enabling conditions; and monitoring and evaluation, which aims to measure progress.
What’s interesting to note is that the framework goes into a lot of details about how this would be achieved and elaborates on the weaknesses for achieving a clear data economy in Africa. One that strikes a chord with me is the non-harmonised data governance regime and I think there are numerous ways this can be addressed (this will be addressed in another article). In addition, there are other interesting weaknesses covered in the data policy framework, which includes inconsistencies in the treatment in data protection, inadequate provision, or access to quality data, resource constraints in the evolution and implementation of data governance frameworks, localisation rules that limit the cross-border flow of information necessary for local value creation and establishment of the single market. Highlighting these weaknesses at least creates a starting point for stakeholders to start creating approaches that eliminate some of them.
I think the data policy framework is a welcomed idea and would love to see how the implementation pans out. This is the right step for Africa and the support of companies, governments and African citizens is, indeed, what’s needed for this to become practical and realistic.
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