The digital economy has become a global phenomenon and Africa has not been left out. However, though there is much potential, little is known about the digital enterprises that underpin the digital economy in Africa. This paper, in response, presents a synthesis of available practice-based and academic literature to establish what is known and uncover areas that need further research. This study found that there is a paucity of academic research on digital enterprises in Africa. This is based on the difficulty in obtaining relevant academic literature that responds to the narrow definition of digital economy. However, there are industry reports and anecdotal evidence of enterprises in both formal and informal digital economies. The formal economy embraces firms in telecommunication, digital services, software and IT consulting, hardware manufacturing, information services, platform economy, gig economy and sharing economy. The informal economy embraces informal production activities like repair of digital devices, organising online training sessions and individual entrepreneurs who leverage over-the-top services like WhatsApp and mobile money and cryptocurrency services to operate virtual businesses. There is also the growing dark economy which exists in several forms including cybercrime, digital piracy, simbox fraud and the adult economy. These examples demonstrate some of the opportunities and threats for Africa in the digital economy, for which critical measures beyond regulation may be needed to address and leverage them.
To end this paucity of academic research, some research areas are suggested. These areas include but are not limited to: tracing value creation amongst digital enterprises in Africa, studying the career trajectories of people engaged in the gig economy, studying the motivations of the companies that engage the services of digital enterprises, exploring the impact of cryptocurrencies and mobile money services in digital enterprises, country and cross-country case studies of the various digital platform and digital enterprise issues, and to generation of lessons and best practices for African countries with growing digital economies.
Boateng, R., Budu, J., Mbrokoh, A.S., Ansong, E., Boateng, S.L. and Anderson, A.B. (2017). Digital Enterprises in Africa: A Synthesis of Current Evidence, Development Implications of Digital Economies Working Paper Series, No. 2, Centre for Development Informatics, University of Manchester.https://diode.network/publications/