Africa: divide within the divide

Only 11% of African people have a fixed line telephone, 12% of African people questioned have a mobile telephone, less than 3% have an email address…So says a new study conducted by RIA. Although one of the WSIS’s main objectives is to decrease the digital divide, 80% of African people today do not have access to any form of communication service. A shocking statistic is that 15% of African people who were questioned would have preferred to buy a cellular telephone than a refrigerator! In Francophone African countries, the statistics, with the exception of Senegal, are worse.

While the official Summit was being opened recently in the PalExpo Kram of Tunis, a parallel seminar a little further away was bringing together representatives of African countries who had come to hear the conclusions of research conducted by RIA (Research ICT Africa), a network of researchers from 14 African universities, committed to the development of the ICT knowledge and policies in Africa.

The new research follows on from a previous initiative that was also carried

out by RIA, which reviewed the “performance” of seven African countries in

terms of information and communication technologies (ICTs). This study is

available on RIA’s website

www.researchictafrica.net. Or, go directly to the report from here

In line with these first results and with the support of the IDRC

(International Development Research Centre – Canada), RIA this time chose to

assess African ICT demand, whilst creating the first ‘E-Index’ for

Africa.

In addition to South Africa, the research included nine other countries:

Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania

and Zambia.

To a certain extent, the conclusions are predictable: only 11% of African

people have a fixed line telephone, 12% of African people questioned have a

mobile telephone, less than 3% have an email address… Although one of the

WSIS’s main objectives is to decrease the digital divide, 80% of African

people today do not have access to any form of communication service.

In a context where, the “voice divide” is getting smaller as a result of the

mobile telephony explosion, the digital divide is, on the contrary, getting

bigger.

The African demand is no longer representative because African

people are often willing to set aside their other needs in order to satisfy

their wish for a mobile phone, despite high access costs. A shocking

statistic is that 15% of African people who were questioned would have

preferred to buy a cellular telephone than a refrigerator!

In critical terms, it should however be noted that this new study, like

many others, excludes several countries, especially Francophone African

countries where the statistics, with the exception of Senegal, would

doubtless have led to even more disappointing, possibly devastating,

results.

In fact, it should be noted that a significant majority of both large and

small initiatives relative to ICT development in “Africa” essentially relate

to ICT development in Anglophone Africa which, in effect, tends to create a

new divide within the divide.

My message to developers, researchers and other ICT4D stakeholders:

Please don’t forget French-speaking Africa!

Translation from French: APC

Research ICT Africa

Region: