Digital Ethiopia

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The Council of Ministers has approved the Digital Ethiopia Strategy 2025 designed to be aligned with the country’s national development vision, policy objectives and priorities this week.
The strategy took into consideration the current economic drivers (Agriculture, Manufacturing and Services), the priority sectors, and the national objectives of jobs creation, foreign exchange earnings, and inclusive prosperity as a means of identifying the most relevant digital enabled pathways for Ethiopia.
Capital talked to Abiyot Bayou who is the man behind the strategy. Abiyot is currently Director of the National Digital Transformation Program at the Ethiopian Ministry of Innovation and Technology.
Abiyot receives his PhD in Information and Telecommunication Technology Management from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He has led and participated in drafting a number of strategies and policies including the National Information and communication Policy and The National e-Government Strategy. He has also led a number of National IT projects including the Expansion of the Ethiopian Government Network Infrastructure (WoredaNet) and the Deployment of the National Electronic Service Portal. Excerpts;

Capital: Can you explain what it means Digital Ethiopia Strategy 2025? How can it help Ethiopia?
Abiyot Bayou: The Digital Transformation Strategy is a plan that helps to transform the dominantly analog economy to a Digital economy, which is an economy mainly supported by the applications of the digital technologies. As indicated on the strategy document, Ethiopian Digital Transformation Strategy is the journey through which Ethiopia will move to a digitally enabled society, where technology will allow for more efficient and inclusive interactions between citizens, governments and businesses, thereby catalyzing its progress towards its national priorities.
The key objective of the strategy is to create an Inclusive Digital Economy. The strategy proposes an inclusive digital economy approach that will catalyze the realization of Ethiopia’s broader development vision. The strategy is an umbrella strategy, from which sectors can then design and co-create more specific action-oriented strategies.
The National Digital Economy has two contribution, the first one is integrating various independent initiatives conducted by government non-government actors and creates synergies that will create a better economic benefits. The second one is helping to integrate digital to the main sectors of the economy and help to create a digital economy. Ethiopia has ambitious National Plan to becoming a middle income country an becoming a knowledge based economy. Ensuring national prosperity, creating dignified jobs, and improving ease of doing business are among the major objectives of the National plan. There are various Digital and non-digital initiatives being implemented by different Ministries and Departments. Digital initiatives being run by different ministries and agencies lack a common agenda and are being implemented in a piecemeal manner. There is an Urgent Need to Coordinate the actions of the Ministries and Agencies. So one aspect of the National Digital Strategy is to integrate national efforts towards a common goal that will serve the national agenda. The strategy will harmonize efforts by defining common objectives, securing stakeholder buy in and defining an effective implementation plans.
Development in technology, especially the digital technology creates various opportunities for prosperity and help the economy to prepare for the future. Failing to take advantage of the opportunities created by digital technologies risks millions of citizens who are already entrenched by extreme poverty. Gains from digital technology are not inevitable. It must be planned and integrated in the national economy to get the benefit from the technology as a nation. The Digital Transformation Strategy Plays this role. It is a National plan based on the national economic development plans. Being a national plan it is based on the country’s situation. The digital transformation strategy helps the country to harnesses the best opportunities technology brings and minimizing the losses. Usually there is confusion between The National Digital Transformation Strategy and an ICT strategy. The National Digital Transformation strategy is not about the ICT sector; instead, it is about holistic growth strategies that harness digital technologies throughout the economy.
The Strategy identifies pathways that Ethiopia should focus and imperatives that must be done to realize Ethiopian Digital Economy. The strategy defines priority projects and programs that must be implemented in the next 5 years.

Capital: How can the digitization help the rural community that depend on agriculture?
Abiyot: The strategy identified four pathways for prosperity. One of the pathways focuses on unleashing values from Agriculture. The initiatives to succeed on this pathway includes building a Digital Agriculture platforms and an integrated system that offers new insights that enhance the ability to make decisions and subsequently implement them, and supporting and incentivizing Ag-tech entrepreneurship as these will ensure innovations, jobs, export in agriculture and related sectors, and inclusivity within the thriving Ag-tech entrepreneurship sector in Ethiopia.
Agriculture accounts 85$ of the country’s workforce. So it means a lot for the rural society. The strategy also addresses various issues related with infrastructure and other enabling systems like Digital Id and Payments. Today identification is the main concern of our populations, digitizing payments plays a crucial role in the life of the rural community either for remittance or buying agricultural inputs.
As I explained earlier the Strategy is well aligned with the Home-grown economic Agenda. Agriculture is one of the main sectors indicated in the Home Grown Economic Agenda, so the Digital Strategy also considers agriculture as a priority Sector. The Digital strategy identifies the best ways the digital technologies will add value in achieving the objectives of the sector. For example the Home Grown Economic Agenda in relation to the Agriculture sector focuses on Enhancing productivity of small-holder farmers and pastoralists through provision of modern inputs and services; for this specific objective the Digital strategy suggests various applications of technologies. For instance using the digital technology for farm productivity enhancement; market information services; financial services (e.g. providing farmers with access to credit) enhance modern farming techniques: such as Precision Agriculture and Vertical Farming. The strategy aims at bringing such type of digital services to the rural community.

Capital: Do you think this is achievable? Will it meet its target?
Abiyot: Yes this is achievable. Now the Government has the right policies. Technologies are becoming cheaper and more efficient. At the same time the awareness of our society is increasing. We do not have options; we have to succeeded. The challenge will be we have huge number of illiterate society lives in rural areas. So we need to consider this fact we select and adapt technologies

Capital: Technology is changing at a very fast pace; do you think you can keep up with the pace?
Abiyot: Technology is changing at an alarming rate. The government should adopt a right policy to use the technology. We shouldn’t solely focus on bringing technology from outside, we should embrace innovation. Especially the Digital technologies have wide rooms for innovation. We have a large young population, with the right policy we can make Ethiopia the center of innovation. We shouldn’t worry about the rate of technology change; we should worry how much we are approaching to innovation. If we become innovative as a nation, we will not be engulfed by technology changes, instead we can see opportunities through the changes.
Capital: Digital economy refers to an economy that is based on digital computing technologies, can the current infrastructure support this?
Abiyot: The current technology is at a very low stage, but it is improving. All our current problems are not completely attributed to infrastructure problems, in some cases we do not use existing infrastructure efficiently.
Currently the government has made important decisions to overhaul the technology/ the telecom sector in Ethiopia. The sector is opening up for competitions. And I believe this will help the country to have a better infrastructure. Hope the future is better

Capital: You said that digitizing the economy will create jobs, but due to this technology and the digital economy people are losing their jobs. What do you say?
Abiyot: Digitalization has the potential to improve productivity, efficiency and accuracy across any workplace or industry. However, there are also associated fears of losing jobs.
The effect of Digitization in replacing human workers is already seen. However, technology will not affect every job in a similar manner. Some occupation may be affected greatly, some affected less. As seen from our recent past, when new technology replaces some jobs, relatively new meaningful jobs will be created. New jobs we didn’t imagine before will be emerged, while old jobs are replaced. So Technologies instead of killing all jobs they will create a new one. However, one thing for sure is that the job as we now will not continue as it is.
But in our country situation there are a lot of tinges we should consider. We should use our relative advantages to create more jobs. Creating jobs is the main agenda of the strategy. Digital technologies can create a lot of new jobs we have never imagined. They can also help in formalizing existing informal jobs. For example, look what Ride creates in Addis Ababa, Taxi service was there already, however Ride changes the way taxi services is provided. This is what we call IT enabled services. They have formalized the taxi sector and at the same time creates more opportunities to several individuals. There are a lot of these type of jobs around us, which we do not think possible at this stage.
So, in general the net job gain is more than the job loss.