Economic Development

Accelerating Access: Deepening engagement in the digital economy in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa

October 17, 2023


Accelerating Access: Deepening engagement in the digital economy in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa

October 17, 2023

Ailia Haider

Senior analyst

Ailia Haider is a senior analyst on Economist Impact's Policy & Insights team, leading research programmes focused on the intersection between technology, society and policy. Her research typically investigates pertinent technological trends and issues such as the future of artificial intelligence, digital rights and responsible innovation. Ailia holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from University College London and a master's degree in International Development from SOAS. 

The digital economy promises to transform economies by raising the productivity of capital and labour, lowering transaction costs and facilitating access to global markets. It is defined as the portion of the economy derived solely or primarily from digital technologies, which includes a host of services from e-commerce to online money transfers and telehealth to ride hailing solutions.

Over the next few decades, it is poised to be the engine of growth, projected to contribute up to 25% of global GDP by 2025. But millions of people still live without access to affordable digital services and almost half of the world is still offline. Many of them reside in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) in Africa and Asia. In the poorest countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, enabling universal access to the digital economy could boost GDP per capita by around 40% between 2017 and 2045.

This begs the question: How can access to the digital economy be improved? Accelerating Access: Deepening engagement in the digital economy in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa is a report that takes a closer look at the factors determining access to the digital economy in a subset of the regions, to identify areas in most need of policymaker and business attention. Nine developing and developed countries spread across Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa were chosen for this study: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The report presents the findings of a research programme comprising a literature review, in-depth interviews, data collection and scorecards conducted between July and September 2022. Using insights from the literature review, Economist Impact developed a scorecard framework comprising four pillars: Policy and Regulation, Infrastructure, Affordability and Readiness (which includes consumer willingness and business readiness). The scorecard includes 31 quantitative and qualitative indicators that measure different aspects of access to the digital economy. The quantitative indicators include data from two surveys, developed and fielded by Economist Impact, of consumers and small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), capturing their perceptions of access to the digital economy. As the consumer survey was conducted online, the secured responses are from consumers who already have access to the internet.

The research was further supplemented by an interview programme with experts in the field to gather insights from academics, business leaders and policymakers in the nine markets. Our thanks are due to the following people, in alphabetical order (by first name), for their time and insights:

  • Alan Muldagulov, CEO,

  • Berry Numbi, founder and managing director, Centre d’innovation de Lubumbashi

  • Buhle Goslar, CEO of Africa Region, JUMO

  • Djamel Mohand, COO, Foodics

  • Eric Dunand, senior digital development specialist, The World Bank - Egypt

  • Halima Iqbal, founder and CEO, Oraan

  • Imran Khan, founder, Raptr Games

  • Jayesh Patel, CEO, Wio Bank

  • Khalid Al Shamsi, executive director, Dubai Chamber for Digital Economy

  • Lanre Osibona, founder and CEO, The Foresight Group

  • Lyaila Uzakova, co-founder and partner, RedQoo

  • Mark Schoeman, partner, Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE) practice at Genesis Analytics Genesis Analytics

  • Nikhil Goel, former CEO, Gokada

  • Noha Shaker, secretary general, Egyptian Fintech Association

  • Shikoh Gitau, CEO, Qhala

  • Wambura Kimunyu, CEO, Eneza Education

Country profiles:

Democratic Republic of Congo






Saudi Arabia

South Africa

United Arab Emirates

Methodology report

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