Digital trust: a prerequisite for Africa's emergence

November 29, 2023 > November 30, 2023, Abidjan et en ligne

Conference organised by FERDI and ENSEA, hosted in Abidjan (ENSEA), on 29-30 November 2023. Under the High Patronage of HE Nialé Kaba, Minister of Economy, Planning and Development of Côte d'Ivoire.

The FERDI's Chair on Digital Trust organised this conference to share the main results of the work carried out over the last four years, which led to the writing by Jenny C. Aker (Tufts University, FERDI) and Joël Cariolle (FERDI) of the book "Mobile phones and development in Africa: does the evidence meet the hype?", published by Palgrave Macmillan.

With the publication of this book, the Chair intends to reaffirm its conviction that digital trust is a prerequisite for Africa's emergence, when public and private players are able to appropriate digital technologies to meet the needs of the population and promote an endogenous development dynamic. This confidence is based primarily on the integrity, size and quality of the telecommunications network, as well as the reliability of information sharing. Thus, the spread of digital technologies, their reliability and their large-scale application, all of which bear witness to increased digital confidence, will condition the impact of digital technology on the well-being of populations, the development of productive capacities and the smooth running of public institutions and administrations.

The conference aimed to contribute to debates on issues related with the digitalisation process on the African continent, and to make recommendations on ways of encouraging the scaling up of certain digital innovations, and thus ensure that the digitalisation process drives a dynamic that encourages emergence in the West African region. Discussions at the conference combined recent academic knowledge on the subject with the experience of both public and private practitioners.


Over the past twenty years, the mobile phone has become a vital link with the 'outside world'. By providing access to ubiquitous services such as WhatsApp, email and social networks like Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, the mobile phone has become an object that is difficult to do without or just to part with. Whereas we once used landlines to communicate with friends and physically went to the shops to pay for our shopping in cash, now we communicate, access information, buy goods and services, or even find work, remotely and at the touch of a screen.

In industrialised countries with a formalised private sector, developed infrastructures and functional public administrations, these technological advances often represent "comfort" innovations, improving the way they work. In low-income countries, particularly in rural areas, the spread of digital technologies plays a more structuring role. This is particularly true of mobile telephony, which in some remote areas is often the first modern communications infrastructure. 

Worldwide, there are now more than 4.9 billion mobile phone subscribers, including 1.7 billion in Asia, 460 million in Latin America and around 495 million in sub-Saharan Africa (GSMA, various years). Adoption has taken place in different socio-economic and political environments, in countries with multiple languages, with different mobile phone and internet service providers and, in many cases, without substantial public sector investment. 

Why is it so popular? Quite simply because the mobile phone (whether basic or smart) is a communication device, linking people together, providing access to information, markets and services at a much lower cost than traditional alternatives (Aker et Mbiti 2010, Aker et Blumenstock 2014, Aker, Ghosh et Burrell 2016). In Tanzania, farmers in Arusha can send an SMS to find out maize and sunflower prices in the capital, ten hours away by bus. In Niger, mobile phone technology has reduced price dispersion on the cereal and cowpea markets, mainly by improving the flow of information and spatial arbitrage (Aker 2010). In Nigeria, day labourers can call contacts in Benin to enquire about job opportunities without making the costly $40 journey. In Kenya, the introduction of mobile money has enabled households affected by shocks to access money transfers and smooth their consumption (Jack et Suri 2014). Yet, despite this potential, evidence of these 'success stories' is limited to specific sectors, countries and technologies, and on a larger scale their impact on people's well-being and livelihoods has yet to be demonstrated (Abate et al, 2023).

So the question of the role of information technology in development remains. While a growing body of research suggests that mobile phones are doing exactly what they promised - reducing research costs, increasing access to information and financial services, and making markets more efficient - public and private sector initiatives have not fully met expectations, especially in rural areas (Abate et al, 2023). 

Conference report

The four panels showed that the digital revolution is a tangible reality in Africa, especially with the increase in mobile phones adoption, and that, digital transformation has become essential for all economic actors. However, the spread of digital technologies presents challenges alongside opportunities. It is clear that digital trust is a prerequisite for Africa's emergence. These are some of the conclusions drawn from the international conference:
 The first panel introduces the book on mobile phones and development in Africa. It explores the potential of digital technology in Africa and assesses the benefits and risks of mobile phones on people's lives and livelihoods. By adopting a multidisciplinary approach, this text synthesises research findings and empirical evidence on the anticipated impacts of mobile phones. It identifies digital development initiatives and their effects, and proposes an intervention framework for digital development. Mobile phones have significant effects on savings, vulnerability to shocks, human capital, trade revenues, investment, poverty, mortality, and tax revenues. While people can benefit from these advantages, investing in digital education is imperative. Experiences shared by professionals in the field show that technology can address the demographic, economic, and social challenges faced by the continent. However, companies, especially tech companies, are receiving less capital investment. Representatives of sub-regional institutions such as UEMOA and ADB, who were present at the conference, responded to this call by assuring that regulations and financing are in place to enable governments to take advantage of digital technology. By investing in, and using technology, the private sector is absolutely better equipped to meet the challenges of development.

The second panel examined the integration of digital technology into businesses, highlighting how it could support SMEs in sub-Saharan Africa. African economies are mainly powered by SMEs. Several private initiatives demonstrate their effective digital adoption. For instance, Betastore is a multiservice digital platform for informal businesses. It provides information to these informal businesses about the activities of their value chain to facilitate trade. Agristore offers electronic services for farmers, encouraging the digital transition in the agricultural sector. Djamo provides digital financial services for credit and savings. Digitalisation is revolutionising markets by enabling interactions between economic actors, including suppliers, consumers, and government. It digitises business activities and provides essential data for the financial sector. Digital technology is enhancing business activities and favoring the formalisation of the informal sector, with significant implications for revenue mobilisation. The discussions explored various ways to finance technological transformation, such as using public resources, public-private partnerships, and pooling digital installation costs at the sub-regional level within countries.

The third panel demonstrates that digitisation offers to governments an opportunity for optimal resource management and revenue mobilisation, as illustrated by e-tax in Côte d'Ivoire and the TresorPay-Tresor money solution. This centralised digital platform enhances the efficiency of revenue collection and expenditure payment, while at the same time providing accessible public services. Digitisation can help customs administration by facilitating data gathering for analysis so that to reduce the costs of international trade. However, tax administrations must be adequately prepared for digital transformation. It was also important to consider the extent to witch mobile phones operators could support the State in revenue mobilisation. Mobile operators have an extensive network that reaches segments of the population that are difficult for tax authorities to access. For instance, Orange provides a rapidly expanding mobile money solution that could benefit the State. However, it should be noted that mobile operators are subject to high taxes, which contributes to the high costs for end consumers. It is crucial to find an appropriate balance between private and public sector taxation in the context of this digitalisation.

The conference concludes with a scientific approach to the subject of internet and democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Internet provides greater transparency on issues of political governance, but also exposes citizens to the risk of misinformation and misperceptions about politics. Empirical results show a negative relationship, suggesting that the Internet has a downward influence on preferences and perceptions of democracy. The ambivalence of the Internet as a source of information requires an enlightened use. To achieve this, it is essential to ensure reliable information, promote civic participation, and verify information through media education. Trust emerged as a central element in the discussion on digital and politics.

The discussions highlighted digital innovations that contribute to the African continent's digital dynamism.  In order to strengthen people's trust in digital technology, it is crucial to promote and support these initiatives. All economic actors must also take advantage of this digital revolution to shape a future that is inclusive and prosperous.


Wednesday, November 29
9:30am-5:30pm (Time in Abidjan, GMT)

Introductory session

  • Hugues Kouadio, Director of ENSEA, Abidjan 
  • Patrick Guillaumont, President of FERDI
  •  HE Minister Niale Kaba, Ministry of Planning and Development of Côte d'Ivoire 

10:00 - 12:00
Opening panel 

  • Presentation of the book Mobile phone and Development in Africa: Does the Evidence meet the hype?  by the authors Jenny Aker, Professor at Tufts University, FERDI Senior Fellow,and Joël Cariolle, Research Officer at FERDI
  • Kibrom Abay, Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) 
  • Marcelin Cissé, Chief Executive, Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development of Côte d'Ivoire.
  • Antonia Gleizes, Venture Partner Marketing, Janngo
  • Uyoyo Edioso, Senior ICT4D Expert, African Development Bank (AfDB)
  • Abossé Akue-Kpakpo, Director of Digital Economy, WAEMU Commission 

Moderation: Lewis Landry Gakpa, Lecturer at ENSEA

02:00-03:30 pm
Digital innovation at the service of entrepreneurship and African business


  • Didier Amissah, Chief Executive, Agristore   
  • Niffone Jacqueline Dabou, Director of Financial Inclusion, Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO)
  • Steve Dakayi, Co-Founder, Betastore
  • Elfried Didehia, Director of Financial Services, Djamo
  • Alphonse Noah, Lecturer, Université de Limoges


  • Lambert N’galadjo Bamba,  Special Advisor to the Ministries of Economy and Finance of Côte d'Ivoire, Professor at Université Félix-Houphouët-Boigny / UFRSEG - CIRES

04:00-05:30 pm
Public revenue mobilisation and digitalisation


  •  Arthur Ahoussi, Deputy Director General of the Treasury and Public Accounting, General Directorate of the Treasury and Public Accounting of Côte d'Ivoire
  • Thomas Cantens, Head of Research and Policy Unit, World Customs Organization (WCO), and DATAFID project
  •  Nafy Silue Coulibaly, Director Orange Middle-East-Africa (OMEA), Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Liberia Zone
  •  Hugues Kouadio, Director, ENSEA Abidjan 
  •  Grégoire Rota Graziosi,  Professor, Centre d'études et de recherches sur le développement international (CERDI-UCA), and FERDI Head of Program  

Moderation: Alban Ahouré, Professor at Université Félix-Houphouët-Boigny, Director of CAPEC, and Université Internationale de Côte d'Ivoire

Thursday 30 November 2023
10:00am-12:30am (Time in Abidjan, GMT)

Information or misinformation technology? Internet and democracy in sub-Saharan Africa

Presentation of the article "(Mis-)information technology : Internet use and perception of democracy in Africa" by Yasmine Elkhateeb (Université Paris 1, University of Cairo). Co-authors: Joël Cariolle (FERDI), Mathilde Maurel (Université Paris 1).


  • Hilda Barasa, Senior Policy Advisor, Tony Blair Institute 
  • Ganiath Bello, Journalist Elles Médias
  • Martial Foucault, Professor at Sciences Po Paris, Director of CEVIPOF
  • Babacar Ndiaye, Director of Research and Publications, Wathi


  • République de Côte d'Ivoire
  • Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères
  • Be-Ys

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