Leapfrogging development challenges in Africa using mobile technologies


It is not surprising to find that both developed and developing industries are investing heavily in the information and communication technology sector for long term benefits for the citizens and residents. In a report entitled “Network Developments in Support of Innovation and User Needs” it was stated that:

“High-speed broadband networks are a platform supporting innovation throughout the economy today in much the same way electricity and transportation networks spurred innovation in the past. New innovations such as smart electrical grids, tele-medicine, intelligent transportation networks, interactive learning and cloud computing will require fast communication networks to operate efficiently.”

A closer look at the statement reveals the importance of mobile technologies and paves the foundation to understand the need for investment in these technologies in Africa.

Mobile technologiesThis blog is about the success stories of some African countries that are leveraging mobile technologies as a tool for their economic and social development. According to a study done by World Resource Institute, average household spending on mobile phones is growing faster than spending on any other utilities (energy, water and so on) as the income of developing countries rises.

This article on The Economist mentions a study that finds a boost in GDP per person by 0.8 percent due to an addition of extra 10 mobiles per 100 persons in developing countries. In developing countries, where average income per person is low, a mobile phone is not just a portable accessory to fixed telephone line services. Mobile phones have been a first access point to telecommunications.

Mobile has been a popular choice of technology in rural areas of developing countries like African countries where a relatively low level of income and literacy are prevalent, according to studies in these papers by Karippacheril and colleagues and Andjelkovic. According to these studies, mobile can be used as a leapfrogging tool due to the following:

  • Relatively low cost of infrastructure rollout
  • Ease of use
  • Availability of inexpensive phones
  • Flexible subscription plan

Technologies like LTE/4G and 3G will allow the underprivileged people of Africa to access services like telemedicine, online banking, remote monitoring, virtual mobile desktops and other bandwidth intensive applications that will improve the quality of their life. The resultant improvement in productivity and efficiency gain will thus increase GDP. They use mobile not only for voice conversation but in a range of applications from banking to healthcare to agriculture.

Communication costs have become affordable due to the advent of mobile technologies. For example, a poor farmer can contact a person in another city to learn the price of the crops. This was not possible before the inception of mobile telecommunications. People are now able to get healthcare assistance using mobiles (see “Uganda: Time to Marry Technology and Our Healthcare System” for an example). Services like MTN Mobile Money are enabling customers to transfer money to anyone on his or her mobile phone using any network.

IBM Global Innovation Outlook indicates that Africa is fast becoming a legitimate force in the global economy. Investments are being made in the telecommunications sector, mainly wireless, which promotes unprecedented mobile applications and services. IBM CEO and Chairman Ginni Rometty stated on TechAdvisor that

“Lack of legacy systems, adoption of mobile technology and a youthful population will help Africa leapfrog other regions in IT by adopting more advanced systems.”

There is a significant focus from IBM to use cloud, mobile and big data to design efficient IT systems for Africa. These areas of IBM Smarter Planet initiatives will prove to be very useful for economic development in Africa. More information on IBM Mobile Technologies can be found at the IBM MobileFirst web page.

In conclusion, the perceived usefulness, real life benefits, productivity gains, low rollout costs and foresight by the private and public sector have influenced the rollout of mobile technologies in Africa. Let’s wish Africa all the best in its journey.

What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter.

Shamim Hossain is an experienced technical team leader and project manager leading a number of complex and global projects with involvement in the full project lifecycle ranging from planning, analysis, design, test and build through to deployment. He is an IBM Certified Cloud Solution Advisor and Cloud Solution Architect. You can reach him on Twitter @shamimshossain.

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