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Towards a digital development partnership that meets African interests

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Read the full Beyond Connectivity: Visions for values-based digital development dossier.

The global competition for digital leadership is in full swing, and the European Union (EU) has joined the race to provide digital public goods to partners in Africa – through its Digital4Development approach and through its Global Gateway strategy, which lists digital connectivity as a key priority.

The EU promotes what it calls a human-centric digital policy with the goal to protect individual rights and freedoms in an open and democratic digital world, which is reflected in its flagship General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as well as the pending legislation on platform and AI regulation. The EU shares the goal of the United States and other liberal democracies to provide democratic counter-offers to what is viewed as “digital authoritarianism”.

Africa has become a linchpin in the EU’s ambitions to support economic development, particularly through digital transformation. The February 2022 EU-African Union (AU) Summit will provide an opportunity to present the EU’s Global Gateway not only in opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative but also as a cooperation project between two interested parties. The goal should be to jointly accelerate digital development, not only in infrastructure but also in the development of sector-specific digital applications digital skills and capacity building as well as policy frameworks and regulations. Such efforts require a partnership of mutual respect and shared interests that advances individual and human rights and democratic norms and that addresses pivotal issues such as health, education, climate change and sustainability. The EU also needs to ensure a coherent and coordinated approach that links Global Gateway with the European Green Deal.

Coordination needs to extend beyond the EU itself and involve its most important partners. With Germany currently holding the G7 presidency, the format can be used to further digital cooperation following the move by the Biden administration to launch the Build Back Better World Initiative (B3W) at last year’s annual summit (or similar). The EU’s Global Gateway and the U.S.-led B3W could seek areas of complementarity and the two partners could coordinate their activities to create synergies and avoid redundancy. This can be done by pooling resources to foster research and innovation and by mobilizing public and private funds towards projects that foster economic growth whilst reflecting democratic rules, norms and standards.

Product details
Date of Publication
January 2022
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Washington, DC,
Number of Pages
Language of publication
Table of contents

Summary 03

1. The external dimension of EU digital policy 05

China as a driver for the EU’s digital strategy and transatlantic coordination 06

A Europe-Africa vision for a digital future 08

2. African digital needs and expectations 10

Digital infrastructures 11

Digital applications 13

Digital skills and capacity building 14

Policy frameworks and regulation for the digital transformation 15

3. A values-based framework for digital cooperation with Africa 16

4. Opportunities for EU-African and transatlantic digital cooperation 18

References 21