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ICT in Africa: perceptions and misconceptions
Wednesday, 22 August 2012 06:21
Written by Ilva Pieterse
Despite preconceived notions, Africa is not a technological wasteland
When considering ICT growth, the common view assumes Africa to be considerably behind global averages, but how accurate is this notion?
According to Thierry Boulanger, director of IT solutions at Samsung Electronics Africa, the idea that Africa is not progressing at the same rate as more developed continents when it comes to ICT infrastructure and the uptake of related technologies is far from true.
“While the continent certainly has somewhat of a long way to go in meeting the same levels of infrastructure development and uptake as developed countries, there is no doubt that Africa is no longer the ‘poor cousin’ it used to be. Today we are noticing a number of promising trends within the African ICT space and, of course, a number of innovative drivers for this growth,” he says.
Johnny Aucamp, GM of strategic relations and business development for Africa at MTN Business, says “SA has, for many years, been seen as the gateway to the African continent and while certainly in many cases it still is, other African countries are fast finding their own momentum. In fact, looking at the recent 2012 Global Information Technology Report one could go as far as to say that in many cases, Africa is fast-tracking the use of ICT to advance the progress of society and business.”
This relates to the report’s findings which indicate more than 70% of the world’s citizens live in societies that have just begun their digitisation journey. “As the individuals and enterprises in these societies continue to progress in developing their own digitisation capabilities, they will only increase and accelerate these economic and social benefits,” Aucamp explains.
Interestingly, according to The Networked Readiness Index section of the report, the rise of countries such as Tunisia and Mauritius (positioned 50th and 53rd respectively) are ahead of the usual African frontrunner, SA, who came in at 72 (compared to 61 in the previous report).
“It is estimated that even a 10% increase in broadband penetration can deliver a 0.1-1.4% boost in GDP and countries such as Tunisia and Mauritius are evidently benefiting from creating an enabling environment for ICT development,” says Aucamp.
THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
As Boulanger points out, “Africa is a diverse continent with many countries at very different levels of technological development – some with end-to-end fibre optic access and others without any data infrastructure at all. It is for this reason that we can’t look at Africa within its entirety, where different countries are noticing different trends, but rather need to understand the underlying trends that are driving technological growth and development from a broader perspective.”
According to Aucamp, Kenya and the rest of East Africa, including the likes of Rwanda and Tanzania, are benefiting from access to the undersea cables, which is helping drive the growth of ICT. “As declared at the Connected Kenya Summit this year, the Kenyan government aims to have 25% of its GDP coming from the ICT sector by 2017, and envisions every Kenyan to be connected to the Internet,” he says.
“Ghana and Cameroon, where ICT-enabled services are seen as one of the key sectors for enhancing economic growth, are set to ultimately become one of the top ICT hubs in the world,” he adds.
Furthermore, says Aucamp, Ethiopia’s ranking 130th in the aforementioned report exemplifies another African country using ICT to foster development, which is largely driven by its government’s willingness to utilise and optimise ICT to enhance business development, create jobs and reduce poverty.
Boulanger notes that many African countries today are bringing down the levy on ICT products to ensure the viability of affordable technology and of course, to open up the market and bridge the digital divide that has been apparent on the continent for so long. “It is evident that this approach increases technology opportunity and those countries that have adopted it are seeing phenomenal technological growth. For example, the biggest growth we are witnessing in Africa from an ICT perspective include Angola, Nigeria, East Africa (Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda), Senegal, Zambia and Mauritius,” he says. “These countries boast small or even zero import duties on certain ICT products.”
Product selection, he continues, seems to be driven primarily by two factors, namely energy-efficiency and cost of ownership. “While African consumers are not necessarily ‘eco-conscious’ consumers, the reality is that energy is in great need in Africa and as consumers look to buy technology products, this becomes a very real factor in their decisions. As such, we are noticing a strong move towards the most energy efficient products to curb the effects of power shortages and the like - notably solar-powered netbooks.”
In fact, says Boulanger, the uptake of netbooks in Africa well surpasses that of notebooks. “This is heavily influenced by African consumers predominantly using their devices for Internet, social networking and sometimes video conferencing.”
“We are noticing the impact that access to data has on the continent,” he continues. “While certainly not new to the trend arena, the landing of the East and West coast cables is driving down the cost of data on the continent and resultantly enabling access for consumers. What is more important to note however, is that consumer growth towards technology uptake has been almost non-existent in much of Africa previously, where the market was predominantly driven in the business-tobusiness arena. But today, this cheaper data and access to wireless networks is becoming a major change agent for ICT uptake in the consumer space.” According to Gerhard Hartman, who heads up the Africa Division at Softline VIP, connectivity is becoming less and less of a concern. “We offer some of our partner and client courses on an e-learning basis and the proportion of international participants that are involved in the process will suggest that connectivity is not an issue,” he explains. “As with SA, you will find better connections in the cities, with connectivity in rural and far-lying areas proving to be more challenging. ”Though African countries are asking about service delivery in the cloud, SA still very much remains the driving force behind the cloud solution into Africa. “For all the possibilities that the cloud may hold in Africa, it still remains a large infrastructure drain in terms of the capabilities needed to offer the cloud,” he adds.
According to Anton van Heerden, GM at Altech ISIS, the consulting and systems integration service industry is showing healthy growth in Africa as well. “Gartner’s forecast indicates that Africa’s
growth in this sector will also remain higher than the global standard. According to the most recent report, global spending for consulting, development and integration services rebounded in 2011 to 5.2% annual growth, a with steady increase to 2014. The analyst firm predicts compound annual growth rates of 4.2% in the United States, 2.4% in the United Kingdom, and 5% for SA alone in Africa.”
He points to Nigeria as a good example of one of the continent’s growing markets, as business and income growth in the country outstrip international norms, requiring increased investment in technology to help the country’s business community keep pace.
“Nigeria is one of the top five fastest growing economies in Africa, with an FMCG sector that grew by 17.9% in 2011 and a telecommunications sector that grew by 29.3%. This massive growth has required significant investment in ICT on the parts of Nigerian businesses to ensure that they can keep up, and to provision for their future growth,” he says. “The African continent is diverse with opportunity within the ICT space and there is no doubt that as businesses continue to understand the cultural diversity in each country and work towards the key market assumptions that growth on the continent will continue to drive forth larger uptake of ICT products,” says Boulanger. “In fact, given that the ICT and technology investment is not as frequent as in developed countries, most developing countries in Africa will skip out on former/older generation technologies and move forward to next generation networks - investing in telecoms now for the future of technology. For example, 4G network implementations instead of the former technologies to ensure that the need to upgrade is not as frequent – placing them in good stead for product and solution investments.”
All of this, he adds, together with the proliferation of products targeted at the specific needs of the African market, will see the African continent grow rapidly from a technology perspective – driving forth growth for not only the corporate market, but diversifying the way in which technology is perceived and adopted from a consumer standpoint too.
Aucamp believes Africa is fast realising that ICT is an enabler of future economic growth and while there are certainly challenges, Africa can look forward to ICT changing the way it communicates, operates and grows. “As devices become more available, costs continue to decrease and broadband connectivity is increased and services more widespread, Africa can finally benefit from ‘always available’ connectivity,” he concludes.
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