12 Jun 2018

THE PROMISES DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY HOLDS FOR AFRICA

We are at the dawn of a technological revolution that will change almost every part of our lives – jobs, relationships, economies, industries and entire regions. Technology in Africa is making huge advances and the Internet penetration creeping in Africa has broken the barrier of 15 %, bringing the prospect of digital dividends to a continent long marked by digital divides but its full benefits will be reaped only once basics like power supplies and communications are widely available

Networks have ended the isolation of African scientists and researchers. You now have access to information from the more developed countries, and this is changing the way people think, governments are acting to harness the power of Science, Technology, and Innovation for the benefit of all through development projects tackling challenges in such a diverse fields as agriculture, food security, disease control, sanitation and environmental sustainability. The success of these projects has depended on the creativity of individual women and men, working together to design sustainable solutions to everyday problems.

If Internet access reaches the same level of penetration as mobile phones, Africa’s GDP could get a boost of up to $300 billion. Other experts concur that better access to technology could be a game changer for development and the closing of the income inequality gap in Africa. But while the theme of technology dominates any discussion on the digital revolution and the way it could transform Africa, we must not lose sight of its cultural aspects and digital technologies are helping young Africans forge a sense of cultural cohesion that could lead to wider continental integration.

According to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2016, In sub-Saharan Africa, the richest 60% are almost three times more likely to have internet access than the bottom 40%, and those in urban areas are more than twice as likely to have access as those in rural areas, As the continent transitions from the margins to the mainstream of the global economy, technology is playing an increasingly significant role in a piece exploring the seven trends behind the continent’s digital future. The World Bank’s development report of 2016 notes that digital dividends, which it describes as “broader development benefits from using these technologies” have not been evenly distributed.

While exponential technologies might be the driving force behind the digital revolution, it is Africa’s most important resource – its people – who can determine the direction it will take. With one of the fastest growing youth populations in the world, the next generation of Africans will lead the way; Businesses that incorporate digital technologies into their practices will create jobs and boost earnings, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB). The bank reported in 2016 that two million jobs will be created in the ICT sector in Africa by 2021. Analyst programmers, computer network professionals, and database and system administrators will find jobs in the sector.

Technologies are often being combined in new ways to solve uniquely African problems and to ensure that more people and enterprises in developing countries have the capacity to participate effectively, the international community will need to expand its support. In a tech hub in Lagos, Nigeria, enthusiastic youngsters tap away on laptop computers, practicing coding skills that many have picked up through online portals such as Udacity or by watching YouTube videos.

You cannot have a 21st-century economy without power and connectivity, a cluster of new technologies promise to have a huge impact on Africa, not least because they can help solve some of Africa’s biggest and longest-standing problems. These include weak state-run education systems, a high burden of disease, broken infrastructure, and low productivity on farms and in factories. What made mobile phones so much more important in Africa than in the rich world was that for hundreds of millions of people they were the first and only form of telecommunication available. The first thing that needs to happen is for the continent’s people to gain broad access to the most basic technological building blocks: electricity, phones and internet connections.

Technology can also help bridge inequalities caused by the education gap. According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), over one-fifth of children between the ages of six and about 11 are out of school, along with one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and about 14. Almost 60% of youth between the ages of about 15 and about 17 are not in school. On the bright side, as mobile Internet access expands, so will the Internet’s potential to narrow the continent’s education gap. E-learning continues to grow due to its affordability and accessibility.

Many countries in Africa are experiencing sustained economic growth, and the whole continent has demonstrated remarkable progress on many socioeconomic indicators in a relatively short period of time. Despite this optimistic picture, Africa is still lagging behind other regions when it comes to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The ambitions for Africa would continue to fall short of expectations if the vital role of science, technology, and innovation (STI) is not recognized and embedded in the socioeconomic development process. Therefore, it is not far-fetched anymore to believe that Africa will become the next hub for global science and technology. The Islamic Development Bank’s (IDB) four decades of extensive work in Africa strengthens our faith in the ability of the continent’s women and men to make this dream possible. Also, Samsung’s Smart Schools initiative equips schools around the world with tablets, PCs and other devices, and builds solar-powered schools in rural areas. Currently, 78 Smart Schools are operating in 10 African nations, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda

In the 1970s, Nigeria’s technology industry was largely dominated by foreign companies. To counter this trend, the government established the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) in 1979. It aimed to regulate the inflow of foreign technology into Nigeria, through new policies which promote the establishment and growth of local software and innovation firms. Yet as recently as 2006, a NOTAP study found a gap between Nigeria’s research sector and industries. Nigerians were largely dependent on foreign expertise in high-tech fields such as computer software. NOTAP has successfully created many more opportunities for Nigerian companies and people to build their capacity in technology know-how through technology transfer agreements.

The continent is blessed with the indigenous knowledge that could be harnessed and developed with benefits accruing to its peoples. Besides, its young and dynamic population has the willingness to learn and adapt scientific and technological solutions to their specific needs. The strategy is to encourage underprivileged students to use digital devices. Digital technologies can provide opportunities for women in the informal job market by connecting them to employment opportunities. High digital penetration is good, but good governance, a healthy business climate, education, and health, will ensure a solid foundation for adopting digital technologies and more effectively addressing inequalities, advises the World Bank. Even with increased digital adoption, countries neglecting analog complements will not experience a boost in productivity or a reduction in inequality.

 

Article by: Blessing Bassey

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