What to expect from the 2023 GSMA Africa Policy Leaders Forum

The Africa Policy Leaders Forum (PLF Africa) will return at MWC Kigali from 17-19 October. This year’s edition will bring together key stakeholders from ministries, regulatory bodies and the broader mobile ecosystem to discuss topical issues, such as handset affordability, the investment gap and bridging the digital divide.

Africa continues to experience exponential growth in internet access. Mobile broadband offers the opportunity to unlock new pathways for rapid economic growth, innovation, job creation and access to services which would have been unimaginable only a decade ago. However, despite this significant progress, 74% of Africa’s population remains unconnected, especially the rural population, women, and the youth.

Day 1: affordable smartphones

The most cited barriers to mobile internet adoption are the affordability of handsets and data and a lack of literacy and digital skills. Pragmatic action must be taken to enable inclusive connectivity in Africa and ensure that digital transformation doesn’t exacerbate existing inequalities. The opening session of PLF Africa will seek to understand what it will take to further reduce the cost of smart devices, and review the willingness and ability of the African population to be transformed into digital citizens.

Mobile data consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will nearly quadruple by 2027. This will require an update on the mobile network infrastructure. Regulators in Europe are currently debating investments in internet infrastructure through mandatory bilateral negotiations between telecom operators and big tech platforms (e.g. fair contribution). This would help ensure the sustainable welfare of all parties involved, including consumers, because the cost of building and maintaining this infrastructure is directly linked to prices. The second session of day one will spark a debate on the fair contribution mechanism and seek to develop some answers to guide the discussions in the region.

Day 2: taxation and cybersecurity

Many SSA countries face increasing pressure to expand their tax bases and mobilise more tax revenues to finance ever-growing government debt, public services, and development projects and to support their economy. As a result, some sectors, such as telecommunications and ICTs, often face high taxes beyond their size in countries’ economies.

Taxation policy reforms can play an essential role in bridging the digital divide by unlocking investment in mobile networks and improving affordability, promoting greater mobile service adoption. This session will present the latest GSMA study on the taxation of the telecommunications sector in SSA. It will propose concrete actions for a fair balance between the need to increase state tax revenues and the need to reduce the usage gap and connect as many people as possible to the internet.

As cyberattacks continue to grow in scale and scope, governments face increasing pressure to protect their citizens and infrastructure and establish a framework for the industry. The second session of day two will focus on the cyber security trends and threats observed in the region and possible interventions to mitigate these risks. With the African Union’s Malabo Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection entering into force, we will assess how this will impact the policy landscape in Africa and the policy interventions required to ensure the region has a harmonised approach to addressing cybersecurity threats.

Day 3: policies for progress

Day three of PLF Africa will focus on four key policy areas to accelerate Africa’s digital transformation – digital literacy, universal service funds, energy transition and spectrum access.

The day will kick off with a showcase of the GSMA’s WeCare campaign in partnership with the government of Rwanda. This initiative aims to contribute to Rwanda’s target of achieving digital literacy for 85% of the adult population.

Limited infrastructure, high costs, and geographical barriers make providing reliable internet access in rural areas challenging. To support infrastructure development, governments have established Universal Service Funds (USFs) used to subsidise service providers to extend their networks and services to rural and underserved areas. This session, in partnership with the Africa Telecommunication Union, will present the results of the latest GSMA study on the use of USFs and explore ways of leveraging USFs to increase rural connectivity in SSA.

Renewable energy holds significant potential to address many energy-related challenges, but barriers related to policies, market design, and investment hinder deployment in some markets. In this penultimate session, the GSMA will launch its paper on the energy challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa. Policymakers and industry will discuss how they can collaborate to identify and implement solutions to increase access to reliable and clean energy across the region.

The final session will examine the upcoming ITU World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23). WRC-23 presents a unique opportunity for SSA countries to strengthen digital equality through further access to low-band spectrum, increase harmonisation in the 3.5 GHz range, and secure crucial mid-band capacity in 6 GHz for 5G expansion into the 2030s. The session will consider the possibilities of WRC-23 for SSA and how it can be used for the benefit of billions.

Follow the debate

PLF Africa is an invitation-only event within MWC Kigali, targeted at senior government and industry leaders. You can follow the hashtag #PLF23 for live updates on Twitter and session summaries on LinkedIn.