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Estonia’s thriving digital partnership with Africa

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In the bustling streets of Lagos, Nigeria, and across Africa, Bolt quickly emerged, revolutionising transportation in the continent. The all-in-one mobility giant currently has about 900,000 drivers catering to over 47 million customers across its dominant markets in the vast continent of Africa. Yet, it is only one of many success stories of collaborations and socio-economic ties between Estonia and Africa.

Estonia’s engagement with African nations has gained momentum over the past decade, bolstered by high-level visits and cooperative initiatives. Jana Silaškova, Head of Internationalisation of the Estonian ICT Cluster, affirms the fruitful outcomes of these engagements, highlighting invaluable connections and relationships, leading to cooperation projects with countries such as Benin, Kenya, and Namibia, as well as regional organisations like Smart Africa.

The seven-year journey started when the Estonian ICT Cluster embarked on its first foray into Africa, marking a significant milestone in Estonia’s engagement with the continent. Accompanying high-level visits organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia during their campaign for the UN Security Council, the ICT Cluster paved the way for fruitful collaborations across various African countries, Jana explains. 

Trade with Estonia in Kenya

While Estonia has long been active in and with Kenya, its trade horizons recently expanded physically to the country with the opening of Enterprise Estonia’s trade office. This move enables Estonian companies to target investments in Kenya’s public and private sectors, fostering economic collaboration. The trade agency facilitates investments in agri-produce, information technologies, and wastewater management, among others, while enhancing export access for Kenyan produce to the European market.

According to Joel Karubiu, the Estonian Trade Development Agency’s Export Adviser in Kenya and Country Representative for East Africa, the collaboration between Estonia and Kenya is a vibrant example of the transformative power of partnerships. He also notes that the success of the cooperation between the two countries paves the way for similar initiatives in other African countries, with the scalability and replicability of projects being critical factors for their adoption.

Commenting on the impact of the physical trade office in Kenya, Joel highlights that it has become a hub of trade inquiries and dialogue, empowering engagement between Estonian and Kenyan businesses and unlocking untapped opportunities for further cooperation. Already, eight Estonian ICT companies, including Cybernetica and Nortal, are actively and aggressively pursuing opportunities in the Kenyan market. 

Namibia’s very own X-Road

Estonia’s collaborations with African countries have yielded tangible success stories, driving innovation and transforming digital landscapes. In Namibia, a pioneering partnership emerged between Estonian IT company Cybernetica and the Namibian Government, resulting in implementation of the e-Government interoperability system Nam-X. 

“Our collaboration with Estonia in implementing the Nam-X system has revolutionised our e-Government capabilities, enabling efficient and secure digital services for our citizens,” says Emma Theofelus, Deputy Minister of Information, Communication and Technology of Namibia. In cooperation with the e-Governance Academy, this venture exemplifies how Estonia’s expertise can be harnessed to propel digitisation efforts in African countries.

Driving Southern Africa’s digital transformation journey

Namibia recognises digital transformation as a key enabler in its long-term vision to become a prosperous knowledge-based, and industrialised nation by 2030. Estonia has a role to play in it. Ms Theofelus affirms that collaboration with Estonia aligns with Namibia’s overall development goals. This stems from the nation’s demonstrated excellence in e-governance and extensive experience, making it a trusted partner for Namibia’s digitisation efforts.

Meanwhile, beyond Nam-X, Namibia’s partnership with Estonia has yielded other positive outcomes in its digitalisation journey. Ms Theofelus cites capacity-building initiatives and engagement platforms as significant impact areas. The collaboration has stimulated increased adoption of digital services within Namibia, generating heightened interest in digital transformation across various entities. 

A multiple-fold cooperation

Estonia’s cooperation with Africa spans various fronts, encompassing growth initiatives, exportation of solutions, and foreign aid for development. This is captured in the nation’s regional strategy for Africa for 2020-2030, emphasising the importance of partnership-based relations and the exchange of e-state expertise. The strategy covers foreign and security policy, economic relations, development cooperation, and humanitarian assistance, and EstDev has been one of its vehicles for implementing these strategies.

EstDev, the nation’s esteemed development cooperation program, is aligned with the development cooperation and humanitarian assistance agenda of the Africa 2020-2030 strategy by facilitating knowledge transfer and supporting initiatives in partner nations. Specifically, by supporting initiatives in e-governance, entrepreneurship, and education, EstDev is helping shape the continent’s digital and socio-economic future. 

Currently, the agency is working actively with four African countries – Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, and Uganda to foster sustainable development. Liina Link, Desk Officer at the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, notes that selecting specific countries aims to ensure focused action for impact. 

The road ahead: continued collaboration and global partnerships

Overall, Estonia’s partnership with Africa epitomises the power of collaboration in driving digital transformation and innovation. The country’s tailored e-government solutions, ongoing initiatives, and collaborations address critical challenges, while its expertise is a valuable resource for African nations on their digitalisation journey.

Namibia, Kenya, and many others stand as examples of successful collaborations, inspiring similar paths and trajectories throughout Africa. As the continent continues to embrace digital transformation and monumental socio-economic development, Estonia remains a trusted partner and an inspiration for achieving a thriving and sustainable society.

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