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Pan-African approach to establishing an integrated system for the free movement of labour critical to support digital innovation in Africa  

by Tia

The past decade has seen the emergence of a new group of skilled workers, by the name of digital nomads. This labour force is able to exploit the freedoms allowed by a mostly laptop-based work process, and offer a unique opportunity to develop and grow Africa’s digital economy in 2024. 

In the African context, there is an acknowledgement and embrace of this ideal among several intergovernmental organisations – that is, the goal of an integrated and continent-wide system that promotes the free movement of labour across borders to grow different sectors of their economies. Article 10 of the East African Community, for example, explicitly encourages the unfettered movement of people, goods, labour, services, and capital between member states. 

“African countries should not restrict, hinder, or outright bar digital nomads and skilled workers from crossing their borders. Especially when these digital nomads offer the skills and talents required to help grow our continent’s digital economy” shares Daniel Novitzkas, Chairperson at Specno.  

“Sadly, South Africa does this repeatedly, and it harms our progress and efforts to digitally transform our economy and businesses. The Department of Home Affairs has reported that, between 2015 and 2021, a yearly low average of 2,200 skilled workers entered South Africa, implying a rejection rate of 52%; for business visas, this figure is as high as 68%. In the same breath, the very body enforcing this restrictive regime has taken up the charge to implement digital nomad visas, which it only launched formally in February 2024” adds Novitzkas.

So, what more can be done in the face of this kind of governmental impediment?

“In the interim, local businesses can outsource these skills to agencies which offer specialised digital training to their own employees.  This human-based import substitution is best demonstrated in an industry as dynamic as that of software development. Not all companies — and especially not those small-to-medium-sized businesses that are set to continue to grow — can realistically maintain the force of talented in-house developers they require to operate and adapt to the business’s digital needs; this is particularly crucial given that companies’ digital needs evolve at the same breakneck pace as the wider digital landscape itself” concludes Novitzkas.

“Companies should actively seek out partners that offer continual training, education, and upskilling to their in-house teams – these would be the agencies that recognise the skills gap created by our visa regime, yet have taken a proactive South African approach to plug it” adds Jacques Jordaan, CEO at Specno. 

Embracing these partners will not only improve one’s business development goals, but will also help champion the growth of our country’s digital transformation sector – even when government lags behind.   

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