You know the story of the two shoe salesmen who traveled to another country where no one wore shoes?
One salesman went away and reported that no one wore shoes while his colleague sent for millions of shoes, to exploit the huge market for shoes. Talk of different mindsets!
Fifteen years ago, Africa would have been dismissed as a poor market for information and communication technology.
Back then, Internet was a rarity and landline telephone services were run by grossly inefficient state monopolies. Simply put, Africa was the country of no shoes – not because people did not want but because of the circumstances.
When the optimistic shoe salesmen set up shop, the rewards were big. In Kenya, where fifty percent of adults have access to mobile phones, Safaricom the leading company makes more than USD 120 million in annual profits.
In Rwanda, airtime sales earn telecom companies huge sums in profits every month. The story of the ICT revolution is no different in other African countries.
Rwanda has occupied the ICT map through enacting revolutionary reforms. Rwanda has been named East Africa’s number one ICT nation by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The country’s investment in ICT stands much higher than the African average.
Another success story in Rwanda is MTN. MTN has revenue sharing arrangements with two Rwandan companies (Tuvugane and Publicell) to make public payphone services available to people without handsets.
In this arrangement, MTN provides the airtime and system; the companies manage the phones and the vendors who are assigned specific locations from which to offer calling services to members of the public. The three parties have a revenue-share arrangement in a venture that is helping to feed and clothe many families.
This success story demonstrates how growth can quickly occur when people have the right attitude towards technology.
This attitude must keep on changing to keep up with the government’s sense of priority for ICT.
The people must be ready to take advantage of upcoming Kigali TechnoPark where ICT companies will centrally access cutting edge facilities. The installation of the fibre optic cable will accelerate Internet speeds opening up opportunities in Business Process Outsourcing and easing the conduct of business.
Its not enough for the government to enact these reforms, the people must seize the opportunities and prosper from them. This century should see Africans become not just consumers but also innovators and net exporters of technology.
A massive and sustained campaign is necessary for people to wholesomely appreciate the benefits of ICT in their lives. People need to know how they can engage in international trade through ICT.
Farmers must be enabled to get better prices for their produce and break away from the cycle of poverty. The availability of government documents online is a step in the direction. Incidentally, Rwanda is among the first countries in Africa to set up an online visa application system.
Africa’s low investment in physical telephone lines and poles was for many years seen as a weakness. However, it is now easier for the continent to embrace mobile phone and wireless internet technology. In a way, the many years Africa was ‘shoeless’ will in the long run prove to be a boon.
Edwin Maina is a Professional writer and teacher of English