‘Harness local content for Africa’s ICT growth’

 

The near absence of African information and communications technology companies to compete effectively on the global market is cause for great concern.

This is so because countries in the great African continent are losing more money to Western nations for the use of foreign domain names such as dot com and dot orgs.

For this, Nigerian Yele Okeremi, chief executive officer of Precise Financial Systems Limited, believes the over dependence on foreign software is costing Africa millions of dollars yearly on the importation of software used in banking, telecommunications, oil and gas, manufacturing and public sectors.

Okeremi says, “Wholesale acceptance of foreign software as superior to indigenous solutions in the economy has created an uneven ground for competition thus giving foreign software vendors an edge in the African market.”

What it means is that the inadequate local content culture in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector has hampered the growth of African owned companies in the global ICT industry.

To alleviate these problems, researcher Collence Chisita believes that African governments should support local content initiatives and entrench the culture of building indigenous ICT companies that can compete on a global scale, as well as positioning Africa for a piece of the electronic commerce market on the internet.

Chisita says, “To harness local content for Africa’s ICT growth, governments in the African continent should support local content initiatives that aim to ensure that indigenously owned ICT companies operating in African countries are encouraged to have a better share of the African market.”

He goes on to say: “These initiatives should see African IT providers play major roles in transforming the continent’s economies.” To successfully channel local content for the continent’s ICT progress, Chisita also believes that documentation of local content is of paramount importance.

He explains: “Documenting local content helps to increase international awareness of African heritage. “Therefore, the mandate of African governments should be to create the market, expand the existing one and to think of how to create the demand for Africa’s ICT products.”

African countries should also set up technical committees on information technology standards to ensure that proudly Africa IT products (IT products produced by Africans for Africans) meet global standards.

More so, the committees should also consolidate the campaign for Africans to buy proudly Africa products in information technology and at the same time provide the enabling framework for the development of the African IT sector. Furthermore, to harness local content for the continent’s ICT growth, Okeremi says there is need to look at the entire value system.

“The ability to come up with a strong case for software is different from having a business case. Therefore, we need to develop software entrepreneurs who will establish software companies or else if we develop software programmers, they will be snapped up by advanced nations once they are flashed green cards and better pay,” notes Okeremi.

ICT local content remains grossly under developed in Africa and many reasons are adduced for it. These reasons take in the high cost of production and scarcity of expertise.

It is also important to note that the biggest threat to local ICT production and development is limited access to venture capital. This is according to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The reports notes, “Other challenges are piracy, poor information and communications technology infrastructure and inadequate protection of intellectual property rights, which are hindering ICT software development and service expansion in developing regions such as Africa.” However, Chisita believes there is hope for African countries since the ICT sector in the continent is progressing well.

Sharing the same views, Aida Opoku-Mensah, director of the ICT and Science and Technology Division of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), highlights that ICT software and services are dominated by the developed world but developing economies are catching up.

Opoku-Mensah says: “Software development is strategic for Africa’s development as it offers a lot of opportunities.” She goes on to say: “Adapting software to local contexts helps firms to manage resources better, obtain information more efficiently and set up cost-effective business operations.  Software development in African nations also creates market opportunities for developers and boosts learning, innovation and job creation in those countries.”

Since harnessing local content for Africa’s ICT growth is a multi-sectoral approach and requires partnerships for innovation, African governments should join hands with stakeholders in the ICT and science sectors to stimulate local content IT innovation and to build Africa’s understanding and knowledge about the power of ICTs.

Chisita says, “To effectively harness local content for Africa’s ICT growth, stakeholders in the respective sectors need to move quickly from policies to actionable programs that benefit the continent and her citizenry.” 

Importantly, Africa is rising in global competitiveness and as such, policy decision makers in the continent must look beyond the traditional solutions and recognise ICT innovation as a cornerstone of the continent’s development.

November 2013
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