Digital tools play an increasingly critical role in achieving development outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile money has lifted people out of poverty by making it easier and cheaper to save and send money, while internet access delivers vital health and education services, among others, to remote areas, notably during COVID-19 lockdowns. The immense potential of digital development to accelerate other development objectives is clear and is an emerging priority for USAID. USAID published its first Digital Strategy in 2020 and has developed a host of tools to support digital development.

The Conflict Peace Building and Governance division in the Africa Bureau (AFR/SD/CPG) of USAID commissioned several reports and assessments in order to better understand digital repression in Sub-Saharan Africa—from the use of artificial intelligence and facial recognition for mass surveillance to the leveraging of social media algorithms to systematically spread disinformation—and to explore ways to mitigate the potential for these undemocratic uses of technology. There is no easy answer. Yet, it is necessary to ask hard questions to achieve open, inclusive, and secure digital ecosystems throughout the region. Future digital development will require navigating political, technical, cultural, and social complexities.