ICTs pivotal in advancing Africa’s economic growth

 

Rwanda President Paul Kagame believes information communication technologies (ICTs) are critical to Africa’s future. In his words, the importance of ICTs in shaping the socio-economic transformation of nations within and across Africa cannot be overstated.

In sub-Saharan Africa, he says, information and communication technologies can drastically advance economic growth and improve standards of living.

While opening the Zimbabwe Public Sector Information and Communication Technology forum in Harare recently, which was running under the theme “Leveraging Information and Communication Technologies for Economic Development”, Zimbabwe’s Vice-President Joice Mujuru also said information and communication technologies play a pivotal role in advancing economic growth.

“Information and communication technologies have become the foundation of every sector in the economy. Thus, they play a critical role in advancing economic growth and poverty reduction,” she said.

Vice-President of South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe also believes that information and communication technologies can be economic game changers and urged African countries to find ways of encouraging foreign investment in information and communication technology.

“For Africa to embark on a higher growth and development trajectory, it must find ways of encouraging foreign investment in information and communication technology while developing its own information and communication technology skills and infrastructure.

“Information and communication technologies are key to higher economic growth and development,” he has said, adding that while primary or traditional industries remain important, the biggest commodity in the world today is knowledge.

He has gone on to say: “The ability to generate, access, and distribute that knowledge have become key determinants for a higher developmental trajectory for any nation, and moving towards a knowledge-based economy would “allow us to adapt to changing conditions and design solutions that will enhance the competitiveness of our emerging nations.”

VP Mujuru, VP Motlanthe and President Kagame believe that leveraging opportunities in ICTs contributes to the building of capacity across many sectors, including health, agriculture, trade and industry, infrastructure, and environment, all of which are key to development.

However, to leverage opportunities in information and communication technologies, there is need for the African continent to build a critical mass of skills in ICTs, and to effectively build this critical mass of skills in information and communication technologies, Africa must have well-trained information and communication technology professionals because without ICT skills, the continent cannot catch up with the rest of the world as far as the knowledge economy is concerned.

Commitment from governments is also needed to influence opportunities presented by ICTs and at the same time to ensure sustained development. For instance, broadband deficit, which is unevenly distributed among all – if not all – African countries, needs to be rectified, and in other countries more funding innovation is also required to close the affordability gap.

More so, partnerships are required for Africa to effectively embrace and benefit from ICTs. This means local (African) companies must partner leading global Information and Communication Technology solutions providers to create platforms to learn and share experiences, as well as to mobilise the much needed financial resources.

“Governments must support strategic alliances with large and successful companies as they offer opportunities to other firms to increase value for their technologies through providing content applications and services,” VP Mujuru added.

Creating conducive investment opportunities is another effective way of embracing ICTs and leveraging their opportunities. Furthermore, strategic investment in the information and communication technology sector would allow Africa to play an important role in the development of new applications and innovations that are relevant to the needs of the continent, which in turn would have a multiplier effect on economic growth.

According to VP Motlanthe, “African countries can provide the innovators for future technological development in ICT that can in turn continue to drive economic and social development on the continent, through developing innovations and applications relevant to the needs of our peoples.”

VP Motlanthe has advised African countries to also find ways to improve both the reliability of their policy environment and their ability to foster foreign investor confidence, on the one hand, and the ability of their regulatory frameworks to lower costs and ensure secure networks.

“African countries need a closer policy discussion of ICT infrastructure development initiatives in the continent, while reviewing the alternatives to leapfrog to a higher development level by leveraging on smart technologies and policy,” VP Motlanthe explains, adding that it is more important for African countries to increase information and communication technology learning in their respective countries as it is critical in reducing high levels of illiteracy in a given country.

Sadly, most education systems in Africa are way beyond their time and need a major restructuring to make way for information and communication technology methods of learning. This will mean introducing information and communication technology learning in the early stages of the child’s life, right from pre-schools up to higher education.

For ICTs to effectively transform African economies, governments should not forget citizens who live in rural areas. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure that citizens who live in rural areas are integrated into the knowledge-based society, and it is also the mandate of governments to adopt strategic investments in information and communication technologies so as to accelerate Africa’s development to a knowledge-based society.

April 2014
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