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Africa struggling to break the shackles of digital poverty

Africa struggling to break the shackles of digital poverty.

Despite having one of the fastest-growing GDPs globally, Africa continues to struggle in its attempt to bridge the digital divide and transform economies by leveraging ICT.

ICT professionals like Brendan McAravey, Country Manager, Citrix South Africa, note with concern the World Economic Forum's Global Information Technology Report 2015 which states that the world's developing and emerging economies are failing to exploit the potential of ICTs to drive social and economic transformation.

Digital poverty has been identified as a serious challenge. "This means they cannot benefit from the massive online library of free information and training resources available to them, enjoyed by others. For those who left school without the correct qualifications, haven't had the opportunity to go to school, or are seeking to get ahead on a training course, the web can offer assistance, guidance and advice that helps accelerate the learning process," says McAravey.

According to a study commissioned by Citrix and conducted by Dr Adrian Saville in 2013, increasing mobility by 5% can improve GDP by 40%.

Research suggests that the internet has accounted for 21% of GDP growth in mature economies, says McAravey.

He believes the answer lies in addressing the lack of broadband infrastructure and critical skill shortages across the continent.

"The majority of people across Africa still access the internet via mobile phone but there needs to be continued improvement of mobile broadband infrastructure to deliver 3G, 4G and LTE across Africa. Another reason for the lack of uptake is that are people unaware of what they need from the internet and how it can improve their daily lives. There is a need to foster learning and educating, addressing the necessary skills for internet adoption to encourage this uptake in Africa and ultimately closing the digital divide."

Industry collaboration 

McAravey adds his voice to the general call for more collaboration between industry stakeholders.

Technology companies and government should work together to improve the digital services available – via joint initiative, he says. "Technology should be viewed as a utility, essential to every individual in the country."

"The good news is that from a technology perspective, the solutions to enable things such as remote working and mobile communications already exist. For continents such as Africa mobile technologies are an ideal solution as they are not restricted by slow bandwidth, electricity outages or remote locations."

Aside from the obvious benefits of adopting a collaborative approach to dealing with these issues, there is also an understanding that governments need to work with service providers to drive prices down.

"Some African governments have taken active steps to ensure their citizens have access to the internet at an affordable rate. One such example is Rwanda which has recognised the value of the internet and the role it can play in helping to transform its agrarian, lower-income economy into one that is both knowledge-based and middle-income. The Rwandan government has recognised that focusing purely on the development of infrastructure to access the internet is not enough. It is also important to build the capacity to promote, develop and host content locally. Alongside this, the government also pioneered infrastructure sharing as a way to lower the costs," McAravey continues.

Ultimately the digital divide is becoming more serious as a result of both infrastructure issues and user behaviour.

"Both of these issues play a role in the digital divide," McAravey says. "On the one hand, if there are no resources and no infrastructure with which to access the internet, the digital divide will never be closed. However, according to an article published by The Guardian, survey evidence in many countries shows that a lack of interest, rather than affordability, is the reason for not going online. According to the study, a lack of compelling rationale linked to the availability of local content that drives users online. "

"One of the main reasons for the lack of interest was that most of the content was hosted abroad. When content was hosted locally it decreased delays and usage increased," he adds.

High costs

McAravey agrees that cost is always a factor in terms of more people being able to connect and leverage mobile infrastructure. He says when it comes to broadband, South Africa's internet access ranks amongst the most expensive globally, according to Ookla's Household Value Index and Household Promise Index.

"A reduction of broadband prices and the increase of mobile coverage across the continent will thereby necessitate the need for a fixed line access," he says.

Africa has come a long way in terms of the availability of infrastructure and the delivery of broadband, however in South Africa, data costs are still one of the highest in the world he adds.

"Mobile connectivity is still the best option for most parts of Africa because it is such a disparate continent, however, data costs still play an inhibiting roll," says McAravey. "If governments truly want to bridge the digital divide, it is imperative that all citizens have access to the internet to gain knowledge and share information, and it needs to be provided at a very affordable rate."


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