Can mobiles make a difference to African development?

Posted on March 25, 2009  /  0 Comments

Much of LIRNEasia’s work is premised on the mobile serving as the pathway to the Internet us by those at the bottom of the pyramid. Our African colleague takes a slightly different position. We will restate our position with supporting evidence from the Teleuse @ BOP research in Cape Town in April. I am sure the differences in opinion will help us improve our analyses.

But is this optimism justified? Are cheap and portable devices like mobile phones and PDAs enough to make a real social and economic difference? Will these technologies draw Africa to and beyond the tipping point where development becomes self-sustainable? Or does more work need to be done?

Alison Gillwald welcomes the huge strides made in African telecommunications, but warns that the extension of networks and services in recent years has been “sub-optimal.”

Gillwald directs Research ICT Africa (RIA), a continent-wide partnership of specialists dedicated to building ICT policy and regulatory research capacity. The network, launched with seed funding from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), is
hosted by The EDGE Institute in Johannesburg.

African telecommunications, says Gillwald, have been undermined by many countries’ own policies, governance arrangements, and market structures, and by the absence of institutional capacity and regulatory competence. The continent lags behind the rest of the globe in four key areas: access, quality of services, pricing, and regulatory environment.

Africans, in other words, remain disconnected from one another and from the wider world. As Gillwald puts it, “I don’t think we can talk about the ‘democratization of technology’ because we don’t have the essential ingredients.”

Full interview is here.

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