In the past decade, digitalization and digital technology adoption have become increasingly pervasive in most African countries. These developments promise life-changing benefits for consumers, businesses and governments, and enormous gains in terms of the much-needed structural transformation and diversification of these economies. However, the actualization of these benefits is not guaranteed. The digital market is characteristically imperfect, and value creation in the market is globally uneven, with African countries having negligible contributions. Economies of scale and scope, network effects and other characteristics of global digital platforms drive the market toward a winner-takes-most scenario. Also, recent events have accentuated concerns about personal data protection and cybersecurity, especially in the absence of adequate legal frameworks. Therefore, there is uneasiness in developing countries, especially African countries, about how to optimize the gains from digitalization. Addressing the foregoing concerns lies in balancing the opportunities and challenges from the digital economy. This requires having sound data governance frameworks built on up-to-date information about the digital markets and data value chains. Such frameworks should incentivize the development of efficient domestic digital ecosystems while proactively situating the digital aspirations of African countries within their existing economic transformation agendas.

This paper investigates selected data governance issues across African countries. It reveals that while many African countries acknowledged and responded to the need for appropriate data protection and privacy laws, most of the existing laws require significant revisions to make them suitable to the dynamics of the digital market. The paper further highlights recent trends and provides some policy options for African countries in terms of competition and taxation policies in the digital economy and policies for promoting domestic digital enterprises. The authors’ approach in this paper takes Africa not as a homogenous unit, but as disparate entities with individual social objectives and institutional frameworks.

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