The challenge of developing ICTs in Africa

Source: IDRC
This book presents the context, theory, and current thinking on the interaction between ICTs and local governance, particularly in Africa. November 2007. [see more]
Sub-Saharan Africa consists of thirty-four of the fifty least developing countries and fourteen of the thirty-two landlocked countries that are confronted with the most daunting economic, social and political challenges .

Despite progress in expanding the reach of basic and new ICT services and applications in African countries, the majority of the population still does not have access to telephone service, computers and the Internet. Moreover, there is a wide and uneven disparity along the fault lines of social inequality such as socio-economic status, age, gender, geographic location and ethnicity.

Bilateral and multilateral agencies, the United Nations bodies and foundations have played a key role in advancing the diffusion of ICT in the region and fostering enabling environment for the participation of the private sector in the delivery of services. However, despite optimism about the capacity of the private sector and direct foreign investment in the ICT, the outcomes of privatisation and liberalization have not been that successful in Africa.

The large flows of private investment have benefited only a handful countries such as South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco where infrastructure has well-developed already. Furthermore, privatisation did not lead to automatic increase of the number of users or bring the costs of access down, while the imposition of free-market conditions onto the inequitable conditions in the region has simply reinforced the iniquitous status quo and in some cases led to transfer from public monopoly to private one.

Although competitive markets represent one of the alternative options to promote universal service, there has always been a large segment of the African population whose needs was not met by markets. Africa has the largest segment of the population that is below the poverty line and with weak purchasing power whose needs should be met by alternative financing mechanisms that extend beyond the borders of the market.

Two main alternatives have been considered to bridge the access gaps: The Digital Solidarity Fund and the Global Public Goods framework. The first proposal was made by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal during the first phase of World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the Fund was established as a legal foundation in Geneva securing contributions from cities and local authorities. While the enthusiasm is high particularly at the level of key regional organizations and some countries, there is growing uncertainty about a long-term "charity-based" strategy for ICT development.

On the other hand, the global public goods approach has become an important and an alternative framework for justification for financing mechanisms that go beyond what the market supplies. It argues that extending access to the Information Society in developing countries is a global public good that benefits everyone because of the value of network externalities. In other words, since the global economy runs on global information networks to create a global marketplace, the private sector in developed countries stands to benefit from the extension of ICTs in developing countries and should help pay for ICT for development as a global public good.

ICT development in Africa also faces other constraints apart from lack of access. For example, unresolved problems of governance and injustice at the local levels and the dynamics of the global economic systems seriously hinder any effective ICT policy implementation.

Likewise, African countries' participation in global governance issues and their access to trade and debt relief are critical for their improved participation in information society. Financing the mainstreaming of ICTs in health and education will make sense only accompanied by policies that ensure new and additional resources and if the problem of the debt burden, which makes it virtually impossible for African governments to maintain adequate programmes of public education and health, are seriousy addressed.

For this reason, the discourse on financing ICT for development following the WSIS process should therefore encompass frank evaluation of the impediments associated with local governance, the global trade regime and the broader debates on debt relief.

Based on the paper "Financing ICTs for development with focus on poverty" by Lishan Adam
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Tuesday, November 13 2007
E-governance in Africa: from theory to action
(Source: IDRC)
Tuesday, May 02 2006
Fibre for Africa

Africa in global telecommunications map

The genesis and experience of Education 3.0 in higher education and its potential for Africa (First Monday)

Open Access: Lowering the costs of international bandwidth in Africa (APC)

Fibre for Africa

African Telecommunication Indicators (ITU)

Millenium development goals indicators (UN)

ICTD Policies in Africa

E-governance in Africa: from theory to action (IDRC)

Financing ICTs for development with focus on poverty

Information Technology Centre for Africa (ITCA) (UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA))

Information and Communication Technologies, Poverty and Development (School of Environment and Development)

Policy and regulatory challenges of access and affordability (

The development divide in a digital age: an issue paper (UNRISD)

National ICT policies making in Africa: Implications for CSOs (Social Science Research Council)

Integrating information and communication technologies in development programmes (OECD)

Africa at the WSIS

Africa Regional WSIS Preparatory Meeting (Accra, 2-4 February 2005)

African Participation in WSIS: review and discussion paper (APC)

Financing ICTD in Africa (APC Africa)

Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF)

Information on ICTs development in Africa


Catalysing Access to ICT in Africa (CATIA)

LINK Centre (University of the Witwatersrand)

Research ICT Africa

APC Africa ICT Policy Monitor

African Information Society Initiative (AISI) (UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA))

ICTs as a global public good

Financing the information society in the South: A global public goods perspective (APC)

Financial mechanisms for the information society from a global public goods perspective (WSIS Papers)

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