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Without data centers, no African digital sovereignty

Africa concentrates just over 1% of the planet's data centers. What weaken the digital sovereignty of the continent. What are African leaders waiting for to react?

They are less than a hundred on the continent. Worse, it is South Africa which hosts the majority. Of course, data center projects exist on the continent, such as Pointe-Noire in Congo-Brazzaville or Douala in Cameroon, where ST Digital has opened a data center. But we are far from the mark. At the end of 2020, Africa concentrated 1,3% of global data centers. Data centers are places that bring together computer equipment, mainly servers. With a significant utility: to store information. In the absence of data centers, African countries outsource data storage mainly to Europe and the United States.

The reason for this lack of ambition lies mainly in access to energy: large consumers of energy, data centers are more easily installed in cold countries. It is not Iceland that will contradict this observation. But the West has also raised numerous data centers from the ground up because of the proximity of the populations that consume and produce data. But now, the internet is bound to develop even more on the African continent. A real challenge for Africa: “We are still at the beginning of history because the legal framework has yet to be defined. The RGPD (general data protection regulation) is not really developed in Africa which, moreover, must face the challenge of infrastructures ”, summarizes Jean-Michel Huet, in an interview with La Tribune .

13 signatory countries of the Malabo Convention

The author of “Africa & digital: understanding the digital catalysts in Africa” believes that the data center will be at the center of the continent's digital strategy in the years to come. “Who says 'data', says storage infrastructures. However, to have data centers, you have to have sufficient energy to cool them… There are real issues around data, particularly personal data, ”he adds. And in this period of Covid-19, insists Jean-Michel Huet, “the issues related to the digital identity of citizens” have been revealed. The author is certain: "It has become one of the major topics of the years to come because data management can have real economic and social impacts in Africa".

In other words: can African countries still outsource the management of their data to the West? The answer is clearly no. Because Africa's digital sovereignty obviously requires autonomy in terms of data. Still, the delay will be difficult to catch up. For years, the issue of personal data has not really been at the center of African concerns, unlike Europe or the United States. The lack of equipment on site and the absence of dedicated legislation are the direct consequences of the lack of political will of African rulers. Result: the continent is today numerically dependent on the rest of the world. By the end of 2020, barely three countries - Senegal, Togo and Mauritius - had launched projects to implement the African Union convention on cybersecurity and the protection of personal data. Only 13 countries of the continent have signed the Malabo Convention *.

* The Malabo Convention provides that “each State Party undertakes to put in place a legal framework aimed at strengthening fundamental rights and public freedoms, in particular the protection of physical data and punishing any offense relating to any violation of privacy without prejudice to the principle of the free movement of personal data ”. This system, continues the Convention, “must guarantee that any processing, in whatever form, respects the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals while taking into account the prerogatives of the State, the rights of local communities and the aims for which the companies were created ”.

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