Africa is advancing by leaps and bounds in adoption and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the private and public sectors. A new report, “eTransform Africa”, shows how innovations that began in Africa – like the use of dual SIM card cellular phones or using mobile technologies for remittance payments – are now spreading across the continent and beyond. Africa is now a bigger market for mobile subscriptions than either the United States or the European Union. The new opportunities were presented at a knowledge event held on January 10th 2013 which brought together specialists from the World Bank and the African Development Bank and policy-makers from Rwanda and Kenya.
The knowledge event, on “The Transformational Impact of ICTs in Africa”, was organized by the Africa Region Sustainable Development department and the ICT Sector unit to disseminate the findings of the 2012 eTransform Africa report. This new report, produced jointly by the World Bank and African Development Bank, with the collaboration of the African Union, argues that ICT innovations are dramatically changing the way African governments and businesses operate, ultimately driving entrepreneurship and economic growth. To illustrate: the pace at which the African continent increases its access to bandwidth Internet has grown 20-fold in just four years. By early 2013, some 750 million mobile phone subscriptions were in use, covering two thirds of all African adults. The best practices showcased during the event highlight how the innovative use of ICTs can help in promoting job creation and boosting the export potential of domestic companies, over the longer term. A snapshot of these best practices includes:
• Agriculture: In Kenya, the Kilimo Salama scheme 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.
• Climate change adaptation: 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.
• Financial services: 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.
• Health: In Mali, telemedicine is helping overcome the lack of trained healthcare workers and specialists in rural areas, specifically the IKON Tele-radiology program
It is too early to project how sustainable ICT-enabled transformations in Africa will prove to be, and whether those benefits will extend beyond tech-savvy entrepreneurs to the poor and the most vulnerable. But African policy-makers are already seeing the emergence of home-grown best solutions in public and private spheres. During the event, Mr. Paul Kukubo, CEO of Kenya’s ICT Board, shared his country’s expectation to become a leading regional knowledge hub by 2017 through ICT-enabled open government, capacity building, and innovation. The Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICTs Hon. J. P. Nsengimena cited positive achievements in the ICT sector in Rwanda, but acknowledged that a major challenge for any modernization agenda lies in “embracing the change” at the top level of government. Implanting technologies is easier than effective change management on the political scene, he said. Rwanda is planning to host a regional eTransform Africa event in June 2013 to set a future agenda in this area, building on the Connect Africa event hosted in Kigali in October 2007.
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The e-Transform Africa report highlights African ICT innovations and home-grown solutions in six key sectors – Agriculture, Climate Change Adaptation, Education, Financial Services, Health and Government – as well as two cross-cutting sectors – the competitiveness of the local ICT sector and Regional Trade and Integration. The report was produced jointly by the World Bank and the African Development Bank, A large part of the funding from the. The editors are Enock Yonazi, Tim Kelly, Naomi Halewood, and Colin Blackman. Support from the Korean Trust Fund on ICT for Development and the World Bank's Africa Region Chief Economist's Office is gratefully acknowledged.
For more information on eTransform Africa, including the full report, the summary report and individual sector reports, see: www.eTransformAfrica.org.