According to the World Bank “The number of mobile subscriptions in use in Africa increased from fewer than 25 million in 2001 to almost 650 million by 2012. Two-thirds of African adults now have access to ICTs. The power of ICTs is more than just putting mobile phones in the hands of poor people. By allowing people to access health information, agricultural price data or educational games, ICTs can strengthen other sectors, and possibly the whole economy”.
The eTransform Africa report, formally launched on 28 May 2012 at the Open Innovation Africa Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, captures the existing use of ICTs in eight key areas: agriculture, climate change, education, financial services, government, health, ICT competitiveness, and trade facilitation and regional integration.
In Kenya, for example, the Kilimo Salama program is providing crop insurance for farmers, using the M-PESA payment gateway, helping them to better manage natural hazards such as drought or excessive rainfall. In Malawi, a deforestation project is training local communities to map their villages using GPS devices and empowering them to develop localized adaptation strategies by engaging communities. In Senegal, SONATEL (a subsidiary of Orange) is one of the latest operators on the continent to launch a money transfer service that is enabling 200,000 subscribers to send and receive money using mobile phones. Finally, in Mali, telemedicine is helping overcome the lack of trained healthcare workers and specialists in rural areas, specifically the IKON Teleradiology program.
When I was in Uganda in 2011 I thought that it made no sense that people would have mobile phones but had no running water or electricity in their homes. Mobile phone providers and internet cafes were in every corner of little villages. Most common shops were selling sim cards and internet dongles instead of food or medicines. I was surprised to see that despite the the erratic electricity supply, the need to communicate faster had become a priority. In Western Uganda huge antennas mushroomed on hills. The whole thing was becoming faster and faster and private companies were investing huge capital into telecommunications. The demand for mobile phones had increased to bridge huge distances between cities, to pass on important messages like the death of a family member and even to pay goods by transferring money by text. Technology in Africa is more about problem solving rather than gossip, about survival rather than entertainment – although social media are flourishing, too.
However, for many in Africa, radio was still the most popular medium to stay informed. Because it is free and because of local dialects and high illiteracy rates, people were using it to listen to the news and to receive important public information. When I was working there, the radio was always playing in the background, with educational and informative programmes running all day long.
ICTs is not only spreading as a means of personal communication but it is also improving communication between citizens and local authorities. Huduma is an example of this new trend: an online initiative where citizens can report problems with health and education services as well as water supplies and the justice system. The issue can be then targeted to the body responsible for investigating and providing a solution. The countries currently involved in the project are Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Nigeria, Togo and Ethiopia. The project has been launched in a continent where communication between citizen and government has never existed before. ICTs is thus a key tool for government to monitor and evaluate its performance in satisfying the citizen’s needs.
The next Tech4Africa will kick off in Johannesburg on October 8th and 9th a two- day event focusing on deep technical workshops, sessions for practitioners, and talks where experts will share knowledge, perspectives and inspiration in the African context. A sort of Irish Websummit in the African continent.
However controversially, this is the digital snapshot of Africa now.