By Ronald Musoke
A recently released joint report by the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the African Union has noted that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) innovations are delivering home-grown solutions in Africa, transforming businesses and driving entrepreneurship and economic growth.
The report says that in just the past five years, Africa’s mobile phone market has rapidly expanded to become larger than either the EU or the United States with about 650 million subscribers.
At the same time, Internet bandwidth has grown 20-fold as hundreds of thousands of kilometers of new cables have been laid across the continent to serve an increasing number of its current one billion citizens.
The report says the new access to ICTs is quickly changing lives, driving entrepreneurship fueled in part by collaborative technology hubs, and delivering innovation and home-grown solutions for Africa.
The report emphasizes the need to build a competitive ICT industry to promote innovation, job creation, and boost the export potential of African companies.
In the new report ‘eTransform Africa: The Transformational Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Africa,’ the authors follow that growth, documenting innovations in ICTs and advances in access for the population.
“The Internet and mobile phones are transforming the development landscape in Africa, injecting new dynamism in key sectors.
“The challenge is to scale up these innovations and success stories for greater social and economic impacts across Africa over the next decade,” said Jamal Saghir, the World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in the Africa Region.
The eTransform Africa report identifies best practices in the use of ICTs in eight key areas: agriculture, climate change, education, financial services, government, health, ICT competitiveness, and trade facilitation and regional integration.
A case in point is where the report quotes Kenya’s Kilimo Salama, an agricultural programme which is providing crop insurance for farmers, using the M-PESA payment gateway—a successful mobile money service— helping them to better manage natural hazards such as drought or excessive rainfall.
“This report not only sheds light on the path Africa is already on, but also encourages continued creative thinking in how to utilize ICTs to benefit more Africans,” says Gilbert Mbesherubusa, the acting Vice-President Operations, African Development Bank.
The eTransform Africa also documents the flowering of technology hubs across Africa – such as iHub and NaiLab in Kenya, Hive CoLab and AppLab in Uganda, Activspaces in Cameroon, BantaLabs in Senegal, Kinu in Tanzania or infoDev’s and mLabs in Kenya and South Africa respectively.
These hubs are creating new spaces for collaboration, innovation, training, applications and content development, and for pre-incubation of African firms, the report says.