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Digital Sovereignty: The Key to Safeguarding Africa’s Booming Digital Economy

By Raul Vahisalu, VP of Technology

The benefits of data digitization are vast in terms of allowing for unrestrained storage space, easy information portability and innovative data analysis solutions. However, the rapid digitization of data also poses major security risks for individuals, businesses and governments alike. Indeed, in the current age of cloud computing, personal and other sensitive data can be duplicated, shared and commercialized at the touch of a button, without the original owner of the data being aware of it. As a result, data digitization can lead to a loss of control and ownership over personal data – in other words, in the absence of appropriate security measures, it could facilitate the violation of privacy rights.

The concept of Digital Sovereignty (DS) can help prevent this violation, by allowing Internet users to retain authority over their personal data. Digital sovereignty requires that countries have their own data centres, to ensure that all government and personal data is stored in cloud storage networks within the country, and that this digital data is subject to the national laws. In addition to the local storage of data, DS also relies on end-to-end data encryption to enable users to regain full control of their data.

Considering the rapid digital growth that is currently underway across the African continent, DS will prove key, not only in the protection of personal data, but also in national security. Indeed, by allowing for greater control over personal data, DS will prevent the illegal usage of data across borders and improve a country’s ability to resist cyberattacks. Furthermore, DS will allow for the recuperation of any new tax stream that is implemented in the context of cross-border data commercialization, which will make it possible for in-country resource investments to fund the improvement of state provisions such as education, infrastructure and the implementation of an e-government.

However, Africa is currently lacking the data centres that would enable its countries to enforce DS. This highlights the critical need for the government of African countries to invest in–and encourage the private sector to invest in–local data centres and state-managed IT platforms, so that the data can be stored locally, within the countries’ jurisdiction. African governments may also want to emulate the Estonian model, by implementing a Public Key Infrastructure and a system like the very effective X-Road, which uses an end-to-end encryption based on PKI, and allows the end users to retain full control over their private key. The citizens of Estonia also have the option to freely give access to their data, in order to support the improvement of e-government services. It is also worth pointing out that a few African countries, including Uganda and Tanzania, have already taken measures to empower themselves technologically in terms of local data management and storage, with GVG’s support, through the implementation of an IT platform that includes the setup of a state-of-the-art local data centre.

The positive results obtained by Estonia, Tanzania and Uganda on their path to achieving Digital Sovereignty are encouraging and feed our vision of a future society in which citizens remain in control of their personal data. It allows us to envision a digital ecosystem where people can freely chose to make their data available to other parties if made fully and transparently aware that such data will be used to enhance e-government or commercial services.