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Eswatini could benefit from digital evolution-World Bank

By Ntombi Mhlongo

The digital economy offers Eswatini a range of opportunities to improve economic development and enhance public and private services.

This is one of the highlights contained in the World Bank Digital Economy Diagnostic for Eswatini that launched last week. About five pillars of Eswatini’s digital economy comprising digital infrastructure, digital platforms, digital financial services, digital skills, and digital entrepreneurship have been highlighted in the report.

The report states that Eswatini could benefit from a digital revolution, with the potential to drive sustained and inclusive economic growth and provide much-needed jobs to the country’s young workforce. The accelerating pace of technology diffusion could provide an opportunity to unlock new channels for access to quality public and private services.

“Climate-smart agriculture will benefit farmers, who represent 70% of Eswatini’s population, by increasing the productivity of their lands and enhancing their livelihoods. Implementing the recommendations of the Digital Economy Diagnostic for Eswatini would make a tangible contribution to the development of Eswatini’s economy,” said Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, Country Director for South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini.

The Digital Economy Diagnostic for Eswatini seeks to support government institutions and stakeholders by taking stock of the current state of the digital economy and providing recommendations for further development.

This was achieved through an assessment of the five foundational pillars of the digital economy in Eswatini, based on consultations with relevant public and private stakeholders.

In the area of digital infrastructure, the assessment found that penetration rates remained low. In 2021, it was estimated that the mobile broadband penetration was only 35 per cent when calculated with unique subscribers.

The usage gap is largely attributable to the lack of affordability of both fixed and mobile internet services. In addition, digital infrastructure is underdeveloped, mainly due to the lack of competition in the broadband sector.

The diagnostic recommended investment to improve digital infrastructure to meet the increasing demand for broadband services. It also notes that together with the introduction of key regulatory safeguards, the unbundling of the Eswatini Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (EPTC) will be a key step in improving access and affordability of broadband services in the country.

Concerning digital platforms, the report noted that there is a significant opportunity to strengthen compliance, efficiency, and transparency in the public sector by improving public sector platforms; and an opportunity to improve the experience and benefits of public and private sector digital platform users.

Digital platforms such as e-commerce marketplaces and digital financial services were found to be underdeveloped and thus underused. The diagnostic found that digital skills development is significantly hampered by the limited availability of adequate educational curricula and quality training, despite the growing demand and importance of digital skills in Eswatini.

The report recommends that the Government of Eswatini should establish comprehensive policies and implementation plans for building digital skills, to support a digitally literate population and digitally competent workforce.

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