This document is a subsection of Platforms
Africa’s hunger for greater access to Information and Communications Technologies (ICT)
demonstrates that technology is perceived as a solution to many socio-economic demands. As the global digital divide threatens to widen even further, African countries have expressed the desire to bring technology to their citizens as quickly as possible. However, there are concerns that private and foreign investors will create a demand for usage that meets commercial interests instead of social needs. Careful forethought about the relevant social, economic and cultural contexts is necessary if Africa is going to capitalize on the new access to technology. If Africans are going to take advantage of the opportunities offered by ICT to advance socio-economic development, they will need to acquire relevant applications and skills.
Several critical principles define the best way to improve the impact that ICT can have on local communities, including:
- Locally-adapted content and context. Useful information should be repackaged and mobilized in the right format, so that it meets the different information needs and preferences of a variety of groups, and can be stored, retrieved, and exchanged with ease, taking into account issues of ownership and copyright.
- Building on existing systems. New technologies should capitalize on, rather than replace and destroy existing indigenous (and therefore highly trusted) information and communication systems.
- Building capacity. Measures should be taken to strengthen capacity of institutions and people involved in information provision, to provide the right information in the right formats, as well as to build the capacities of the information users to access and appropriate a wider range of information and ICT.
- Access, empowerment and democratization. Steps should be taken to ensure that relevant information actually reaches and empowers poor people, especially women, and is not captured by wealthier or more powerful sections of the community.
- Strengthening partnerships. African countries should build the new horizontal and vertical inter-organizational, inter-departmental and inter-sectoral partnerships that are necessary to ensure information is available to all stakeholders.
- Realistic approaches to technologies to support information and communication. Sustainable systems should be built to enhance existing systems. They should be expandable and extendable, and exploit multiple and diverse communication tools and the full range of existing media.
- Information costs, value and financial sustainability. There should be a serious effort to value and finance the establishment of appropriate information infrastructure and the provision of appropriate information content, particularly in remote rural areas.
Undoubtedly, two central challenges for African countries will be how to regulate and govern. Local forecasting of the market demand of ICT services is crucial. Appropriate and systematic measurement and evaluation is necessary from both a quantitative and qualitative sense, so that solutions can adjust to the shifting demands of the end-user. The principles highlighted above are a step in the right direction. Different needs create different uses that can’t yet be predicted. What needs to be taken into consideration is that simply providing a platform is no panacea. In the future, each country needs to manage its different stakeholder interests appropriately. By understanding their underlying and competing agendas, countries can ensure that investor interests are closely aligned to national socio-economic requirements, for the true benefit of their citizens.
-- MM & SW