Digital Africa: Beyond infrastructure to ICTs uptake

Internet connectivity in Africa has remained painfully low and has in effect shifted the opportunities and possibilities that a digitalised Africa could take advantage of.

Internet connectivity in Africa has remained painfully low and has in effect shifted the opportunities and possibilities that a digitalised Africa could take advantage of.

Whereas elsewhere in Africa users of internet enjoy a spectrum of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), in Rwanda, if it is not Rwandatel it is only MTN Rwanda. KIST and Mediapost fell out completely.

A mere department of ICT at Rhodes University is an ISP, offering connectivity faster and more reliable than our MTN Rwandacell.

Rwanda will have to choose between shying away from reality and getting down to working on real issues to realise the dream of becoming a regional ICT hub.

While Africa struggles to catch up with the developed world, it is bogged down by lack of competitive infrastructure especially in information and communication technologies.

Harold Wesso, the deputy director general of ICT policy at South Africa’s department of communication holds the view that Africa must first of all put the right infrastructure in place but again look beyond its mere provision.

Wesso says that in year 2000, Sub-Saharan Africa had 10% of the population covered by mobile network. Today it stands at 60%.

In Rwanda, whereas MTN reports over 80% coverage statistics indicate that only about 5% of Rwanda’s population are on mobile network.

In Uganda studies show that while 94% of the population are connected only 7% of the population have access to mobile telephony. This according to Wesso is a clear indication that infrastructure alone is not the answer.

He says Africa needs to address problems suffered by citizens in trying to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) for development.

A lot of work still needs to be done towards focussing on uptake of the ICT services. Today people do not see benefits of ICTs due to high cost of these technologies.

Wesso observed that there’s a lot of foreign content on South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) TV. It was however not long before his worry was answered.

During the Highway Africa awards SABC group CEO Peter Matlare announced launch of SABC News International programme that will focus on real stories of Africa.

He said this will put an end to stories about suffering, hunger, disease and poverty that are mostly publicised about Africa on BBC, CNN among other international channels.

As far as ICT development policies is concerned Wesso noted that Africa has done pretty well, “but still needs to develop appropriate policies to address slow uptake of these technologies.

He explained what it will mean to Africa when analogue signals will finally be phased out as stipulated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by 2015. Rwanda will host an ITU summit next month and this is expected to be among the topics of discussion.

Wesso announced that South Africa has just completed a broadcast digital migration policy. Rwanda is interestingly ahead in this area.

Digital migration offers a free spectrum, give away to development of local content, bring about additional communication services as well as new and advanced communication services.

In general migration will contribute to poverty alleviation, help source capital and social cohesion. People will then be able to communicate in many different ways thus creating diversity of opportunities.
 
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