Digital development in Sub-Saharan Africa

16-11-2015

In the past decade, the use of information and communication technologies (ICT), especially of mobile communications, has increased exponentially in Sub-Saharan Africa. It has become common to talk of a 'mobile revolution' sweeping the region, with mobile phone use spreading quickly, geographically and socially, accompanied by novel applications, impacting on other areas of economic life. The internet still has to catch up with the mobile sector, but there are encouraging signs that it will do so. Building the necessary connection infrastructure has considerably advanced, and digital devices are becoming more affordable. However, general literacy and digital skills across the population need to be improved in order for African countries to fully reap the benefits of the digitalisation, and this is a more difficult challenge to tackle. ICT is having an impact on many sectors of the economy, from access to basic amenities like electricity supply and clean water, to financial transactions. It has been a major driver of economic growth and an important contributor to public budgets. A number of digital applications adapted to specific local conditions have been developed in sectors such as agriculture, education, health, and democratic governance. The potential uses of ICT in such sectors promise a transformative impact on economic, social and political life, spurring development in numerous areas. If current trends continue, more and more people will see their life touched by these new technologies. It is also important to remain aware of the potential limitations of the new technologies, which cannot fully substitute, for example, for other major drivers of economic growth, or for real teachers and schools. Digital communications can be used to improve governance, but may also stoke conflict and violence in the absence of appropriate checks. ICT tools can increase public transparency, but cannot on their own eliminate corruption.

In the past decade, the use of information and communication technologies (ICT), especially of mobile communications, has increased exponentially in Sub-Saharan Africa. It has become common to talk of a 'mobile revolution' sweeping the region, with mobile phone use spreading quickly, geographically and socially, accompanied by novel applications, impacting on other areas of economic life. The internet still has to catch up with the mobile sector, but there are encouraging signs that it will do so. Building the necessary connection infrastructure has considerably advanced, and digital devices are becoming more affordable. However, general literacy and digital skills across the population need to be improved in order for African countries to fully reap the benefits of the digitalisation, and this is a more difficult challenge to tackle. ICT is having an impact on many sectors of the economy, from access to basic amenities like electricity supply and clean water, to financial transactions. It has been a major driver of economic growth and an important contributor to public budgets. A number of digital applications adapted to specific local conditions have been developed in sectors such as agriculture, education, health, and democratic governance. The potential uses of ICT in such sectors promise a transformative impact on economic, social and political life, spurring development in numerous areas. If current trends continue, more and more people will see their life touched by these new technologies. It is also important to remain aware of the potential limitations of the new technologies, which cannot fully substitute, for example, for other major drivers of economic growth, or for real teachers and schools. Digital communications can be used to improve governance, but may also stoke conflict and violence in the absence of appropriate checks. ICT tools can increase public transparency, but cannot on their own eliminate corruption.