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Technology Can Help Africa Leap-Frog Development Challenges
Appropriate deployment of technology can help African countries to solve some of their development challenges. This is the consensus view that emerged during discussions on a new flagship report titled “eTransform Africa” at the ongoing African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Annual Meetings in Marrakech, Morocco.
The report was produced by the AfDB and the World Bank, with the support of the African Union. It identifies best practice in using ICTs in key sectors of the African economy.
Africa is right at the start of its growth curve for transformational use of communication technologies. The continent is harbouring exciting opportunities, particularly with mobile phones applications and the information they deliver.
For the AfDB, supporting information and communication technologies (ICT) is key to improving the lives of Africans and driving entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth throughout the continent.
“With 540 million users in Africa, the continent has one of the fastest growing mobile phone markets in the world.” AfDB principal telecom engineer, Enock Yonazi, explained.
Yet, Africa encounters many connectivity challenges such as the gap in cross-border inter-connection, the stimulation of demand and how to fully leverage the infrastructure that is being put in place for structural transformation.
As a result, The African Development Bank has teamed up with the Korean Trust Fund to find out how to use ICT’s for the benefit of Africa and have committed “to support Africa’s transformation over the coming decade with agility, selectivity and a strong focus” according to Yonazi. The partners focus on eight areas of ICT which have the potential to “transform African societies.” These include agriculture, climate change adaptation, education, financial services, health, local ICT, modernizing government and trade and regional integration.
Described as “one of the best mobile application in the world” by Amadou Oumarou from AfDB’s Transport and ICT Department and listed as a successful example of how mobile services can change the economic growth of a society, MPESA, (M for mobile, Pesa for money in Kiswahili) was put in the spotlight during the session. The mobile phone tool allows Kenyans to transfer money from one mobile phone to another and pay for a range of things from a meal to school fees. Betty Thuo of Kenya’s mobile phone company, Safaricom, told the session that “last year, the service contributed to 40% of Kenya’s GDP and has saved the average customer three hours and US$4 a day. “
Yet, more needs to be done to ensure that all Africans are able to benefit from ICT’s. The lack of infrastructure is a real challenge throughout the continent and in that regard, Yonazi said the AfDB strongly encourages governments to focus on this issue and create an ecosystem, which can reach the less connected rural areas. As education and training is also a major factor in social transformation, governments must also urge students and researchers to use ICT’s.
The AfDB stresses that ICT’s can ease cross-border communications, financial transactions and the sharing of data and information and can have a catalytic impact on regional integration and trade facilitation. The AfDB is already looking at an application for mobile banking across borders, particularly in West Africa.
Although technologies such as the mobile phone have revolutionized communication in Africa, the continent remains the least connected in the world. With 7% economic growth expected on the continent by 2020, social and economic gaps must rapidly be filled. The AfDB has a major role to play in this domain.