Since the beginning of time, mankind has thrived on one type of economy or another. The first economy to ever thrive was the agricultural economy (pre-Industrial Age) where people focused on the agrarian sector, with fishing, hunting, and farming as a major means of livelihood. Since then, the world economy has transitioned from agriculture to the Industrial economy which focused majorly on manufacturing, to the post-Industrial era (focusing mainly on providing services) and now to the knowledge economy which focuses predominantly on technology/human capital and information.

Knowledge/Data Economy Demystified

The knowledge/data economy involves computer literacy and proficiency in data handling, development of algorithms and simulated models as well as innovation in processes and systems. The data economy specifically involves a system where data is gathered, organized, and exchanged with the sole purpose of deriving value from the accumulated information. It is characterized by an ecosystem of different types of market players such as manufacturers, researchers and service providers who collaborate to ensure that data is accessible and usable. Value is thus extracted from processed data through the creation of a variety of applications of such data with the ultimate goal of improving daily life. Worldwide examples of the knowledge economy include Silicon Valley in California, USA; aerospace and automotive engineering in Germany, electronics and digital media in South Korea to mention a few. The size of the EU data economy was estimated to be more than €285 billion in 2015, which was a representation of just 1.94% of the EU GDP at the time.

There are several immense benefits which are associated with this economy. One of such benefits is that the management of personal data makes everyday life easier and adds to individual wellbeing. A unified procedure for the management of personal data with consideration to the wellbeing of data subjects as well as contributions from them presents a lot of opportunities for user-oriented innovations and business activities as data subjects would have control over their personal data and can actively control, influence and determine the terms and conditions under which their personal data is used. It is also an added advantage to service providers who, once they earn the trust of the data subjects through compliance with legislations on data protection, ensuring the continuous safety, security, confidentiality and integrity of data subjects’ personal data , can offer more and also grant access to limitless amounts of products and e-services thereby promoting their business and generating more revenue/profit which will consequently add to the country’s GDP.


As expected, alongside the benefits of this type of economy are also challenges which are to be addressed. One of such challenges is that of awareness, particularly by citizens as data subjects who give out their personal data on a regular basis without having knowledge of their rights as guaranteed by relevant data protection laws in place or the implications of giving out their personal data. Personal data which falls into wrong hands can be used to inflict untold havoc on the data subject as it is an essential element used by hackers and perpetrators of cybertheft and other types of cybercrime to orchestrate and execute their activities. A survey done by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the regulatory body for data protection in Nigeria shows that about 588 organizations out of an estimated 1.5 million organizations were compliant with the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation’s requirements, particularly as regards filing their Data Protection Audit Reports. A further analysis showed that about 93% of the compliant organizations were based in Lagos, which is just one state in a country of 36 states. This means there is a long way to go in ensuring that data controllers and data subjects in other states are aware of the provisions of the relevant data protection legislations. One way of addressing this is the enactment of an Act by the National Assembly which contains provisions regulating data protection in the country. An Act would be extensive and far reaching in enforcement which would lead to more persons gaining knowledge and consequently complying with its provisions. It is recommended that the Act should be drafted bearing in mind the provisions of other related legislations such as the Cybercrimes Act and related legislations and should focus on working conjunctively with these legislations to secure personal data and also address issues on cybercrime and other related offences as related to the use of personal data.

Establishment of Regulatory Authorities and laws for Data Protection in African Countries

Another essential key to the advancement of the data economy is the establishment of a regulatory body in different countries in Africa – the Data Protection Commission which would be saddled with the responsibility of monitoring and regulating the flow of personal data within the African countries as well as the supervision of cross-border data processing operations carried out by companies located in them. A critical issue which usually affects organizations of this caliber is the paucity of human and financial resources. If  we are to achieve one of the key objectives which is ensuring that businesses remain competitive in international trade through the safe-guards afforded by a just and equitable legal regulatory framework on data protection in tune with best practice, it is pertinent that governments in these countries offer support to the regulatory body both financially and otherwise so as to ensure that the challenge of paucity of funds as well as that of human resources is adequately managed and eradicated for Africa to consequently achieve the same level of implementation of data protection principles as the European Union and ultimately advance its data economy.

Establishment of a Regulatory Body overseeing Continental transfer of Personal Data

Finally, if Africa’s data economy is to be substantially advanced, it is recommended that there be a legislation as well as a regulatory body responsible for regulating and monitoring cross-border transfer and processing of personal data between countries in Africa and around the world. It is essential that there should be a legislation which regulates relationships and collaborations between countries in Africa as regards the processing of personal data. Such body would be constituted of individuals with integrity from different African countries who have sufficient knowledge of data protection. The regulatory body would also be necessary in the event of a breach of personal data rights which may occur in the course of such foreign transfer of personal data as it would act as an arbiter for the determination of matters relating to such breach and even on matters of dispute between regulatory bodies in different African countries. It goes without saying that such body shall be independent and not subservient to any government or body in Africa.


With appropriate awareness, consistent training as well as the enactment of local and international legislations and regulatory authorities dedicated to the safety and security of personal data as well as the rights and wellbeing of data subjects, the African data economy will receive a massive boost and data will truly become the next oil.

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