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Digital Dividends

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Turning Africa’s digital divide into digital dividends
Fenohasina Rakotondrazaka Maret
In Nairobi, Kenya, technological advances like Uber have brought positive disruption and
significant benefits to consumers. The country has been called the Silicon Savannah for having
hatched various technological innovations. But in some parts of Kenya, it’s not uncommon to
wait for hours to get a stable Internet connection.
In the capitals of Madagascar and Burkina Faso, where smartphone and computer ownership is
still low, people have to go to cybercafés to access the Internet, usually on run-down computers
with old software, and even then, connection speeds may be painfully slow.
Slow connection speeds and lack of Internet access aren’t just a hassle though, they’re signs of
the digital divide that sets many African countries behind.
The World Bank’s World Development Report 2016 provides an in-depth analysis of countries’
access to and use of the Internet, mobile phones, and tools to collect, store, analyze, and share
information digitally. We revisited the latest data and observed a persistent digital divide,
particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa lags furthest behind in Internet access. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 19
percent of the population had Internet access in 2016, compared with 77 percent in North
American regions.
Access within sub-Saharan Africa is unequal. In Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, 48 percent of
the population had Internet access. In Ethiopia, Malawi, and Tanzania, 9 percent had access.
Internet Users per 100 People
90,00
80,00
North America
70,00
Europe & Central Asia
60,00
Latin America & Caribbean
50,00
East Asia & Pacific
40,00
Middle East & North Africa
30,00
South Asia
20,00
Sub-Saharan Africa
10,00
0,00
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
In sub-Saharan Africa, Francophone countries lag behind in Internet access relative to
Anglophone countries. Francophone countries have lower GDP compared with Anglophone
countries. Smartphone ownership is low as well. In countries like Senegal and Burkina Faso, less
than 25 percent of the population own a smartphone.
There is also a gender gap, where male internet access exceeds female’s by at least 5 percent
on average in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Internet Access in Anglo, Franco and Lusophone Africa
25
20
15
10
5
0
Anglophone
Francophone
Lusophone
Figure 2: Use of internet by the language use history of the country Anglophone, Lusophone
Francophone
(Data Source International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication/ICT Development Report and database, and World Bank . In
this dataset, Anglophone countries include Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan
Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Mauritius and Rwanda. Francophone countries include Benin, Burkina Faso,
Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger,
Republic of Congo, Senegal, Togo. Cameroon, and Rwanda are counted as both Anglophone and Francophone in this data.)
What are these African countries missing out on?
Digital technologies promote job creation, boost economic growth, and improve government
services. Greater access to technology increases inclusion, efficiency, and innovation.
Job creation, investment and innovation
Better Internet access boosts employment and earnings in the information and
communications technologies sectors, which include such jobs as mobile application
development and network administration. But most important, better Internet access increases
employment and earnings in the sectors that use information and communications technology.
For example, companies in developed countries often outsource their work to developing
countries to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Companies determine where to outsource
based on various criteria, including the cost and quality of telecommunication infrastructures.
The World Bank report states that almost half of this type of outsourcing is in banking and
financial services, and another 20 percent is in technology and telecommunications.
According to A. T. Kearney, which ranks the top outsourcing destinations worldwide, only five
sub-Saharan African countries are ranked in the top 50: Ghana (29th), Mauritius (30th), Kenya
(39th), Senegal (45th), and South Africa (48th).
Among those five, Senegal is the only Francophone country, and it has a 22 percent Internet
access rate. The four Anglophone countries average a 43 percent Internet access rate.
Compared with Anglophone countries, which have better-quality infrastructure, Francophone
countries are less attractive outsourcing destinations and miss out on job creation
opportunities.
Research also has shown that ICT investment and socio-economic development are positively
correlated, therefore playing a major role in driving sustainable inclusive growth. And the whole
digital economy equation includes attracting Foreign Direct Investment, building
entrepreneurship, and spurring innovation.
Higher labor productivity boosted by online education
Internet access also promotes higher labor productivity through better access to online
education. For instance, people have access to free high-quality education from anywhere
through massive online open courses.
The empirical data on how these online courses directly affect economic development are
limited. But the World Development Report shows that higher education is associated with
more access to employment opportunities and higher earnings, which reflects the high demand
for advanced skills. The positive impact of higher education is especially strong among women
(figure 3). Easy access to high-quality online education enables the poor, women, minorities,
and people in remote regions to receive quality education they would not have otherwise.
Average rate of return for one additional year of
education in higher education
Men Low and Middle Income Countries
Women Low and Middle Income Countries
Men High Income Countries
Women High Income Countries
25
Percent
20
15
10
5
0
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
Figure 3: Average rate of return for one additional year of education in higher education
Source: Montenegro, Claudio E., and Harry Anthony Patrinos. Comparable estimates of returns to schooling around the world. The World Bank,
2014. https://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/abs/10.1596/1813-9450-7020
Notes: includes 97 countries and only wage employees. The regressions control for potential experience and potential experience squared
using individuals ‘age.
Even with Internet access, language barriers prevent many people from taking these
courses. About 75 percent of these online courses use English, which makes it difficult for
people in non-English-speaking countries to benefit. English is the number one language of the
internet, followed by Chinese and Spanish.
Stronger government accountability through citizen engagement
Internet access also allows citizens to engage with their government. For example, the I Paid a
Bribe website in India and the U-report in Uganda have shown huge uptake. In the Urban
Institute’s work in Tanzania, the US Agency for International Development helped each local
government share information on their websites with citizens.
When governments go digital, they streamline systems and bring in efficiency, reducing
transaction time and costs for businesses and citizens in providing services online such as
licenses, permits and various forms. Governments can also interact more easily with citizens,
and tap into collective intelligence to bolster its performance, inclusion and responsiveness to
citizens’ needs.
Shifts needed to close the digital divide:
Going digital provides many promises to Africa, from young mothers having access to 24/7
medical advice to management of forest and poaching activities through satellite. The private
sector can help close the digital gap. Facebook, for example, announced in 2017 plans to use
land-based and satellite technologies to provide better Internet access to African countries. But
public investment and involvement will be necessary to reap the digital dividends. Making the
Internet more accessible and affordable should be among governments’ priorities, particularly
in sub-Saharan African countries that lag behind the most. Researchers who studied African
poverty through an historical perspective conclude that the failure by Africans to adopt modern
technologies even when they were aware of their existence is one of the reasons that made
Africa fail to make progress in the past. We should learn from history because Africans cannot
afford to miss the digital golden opportunity.
Africa needs to develop a clear digital agenda. That agenda should include attracting capital
investment oriented in the digital economy and improving the ecosystem for startups and
opportunities for digital innovation. It also needs new policies and regulations aligned with
digital trends to enhance cooperation within governments. These policies should help avoid any
unwanted effects of going digital, such as threats to individual privacy or cybersecurity.
High-quality digital infrastructure with excellent connectivity coverage, ultra-fast broadband
and good affordability for ordinary citizens relies on access to electricity, a mandatory
requirement in addition to the other digital infrastructure and environment required. Building
the talent pool with good foundations in primary and secondary education to foster universal
digital literacy as well as adopting an effective strategy to “reskill” or “upskill” the workforce
will be a key enabler of digital dividends. Because the dividends lie not just in mere
connectivity but also in access to big data, artificial intelligence, data science, blockchain,
robotics and other fast-emerging technologies which have the power to transform lives and
support sustainable and resilient societies.
In fact, there is much more to bridging the digital divides, from broadening access to deepening
usage, where users take full advantage of ICTs. The figure below charts the access to internet
and Facebook usage in Africa.
Correlation between Facebook Usage and Internet Access
90%
Kenya
80%
Seychelles
Facebook Users per population
70%
Mali
60%
Mauritius
Senegal
South Africa
50%
Nigeria
40%
Uganda
Zambia
Zimbabwe
Tanzania
Cabo Verde
Gabon
Botswana
Ghana
Benin Swaziland
Namibia
Rwanda
Sudan
Lesotho
Sao Tome & Principe
Cote d'Ivoire
EquatorialCameroon
Guinea
Burkina
FasoAngola
Gambia
Mauritania
Mozambique
South
Sudan
Comoros
Ethiopia
Guinea
Congo
Sierra
TogoLeone
Malawi
Liberia
Somalia
Madagascar
Guinea-Bissau
Congo,
Dem. Rep.
Burundi
Central
African
Rep.
Chad
Niger
Eritrea
30%
20%
10%
0%
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
Internet Users per population
Sources: Graph using data from internetworldstats.com
50%
60%
70%
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