A joint report published by the World Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB), with support from the African Union has revealed that Information Communication Technology (ICT) innovations are delivering home-grown solutions in Africa, transforming businesses, and driving entrepreneurship and economic growth.
The report, eTransform Africa: The Transformational Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Africa, provides new data on the technological revolution that is taking place in Africa and its transformational impact on the continent's development.
According to it, at the start of 2012, there were some 650 million mobile subscriptions, making the African mobile telephony market bigger than either the EU or the United States. Some 68,000 km of submarine cable and over 615,000 km of national backbone networks have been laid, greatly increasing connectivity across Africa. The Internet bandwidth available to Africa's one billion citizens has grown 20-fold since 2008, it added.
"The Internet and mobile phones are transforming the development landscape in Africa, injecting new dynamism in key sectors," said World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in the Africa Region, Jamal Saghir. "The challenge is to scale up these innovations and success stories for greater social and economic impacts across Africa over the next decade."
The eTransform Africa report, released Monday in Washington, USA, emphasised the need to build a competitive ICT industry to promote innovation, job creation, and boost the export potential of African companies. It identifies best practices in the use of ICT in eight key sectors.
"This report not only sheds light on the path Africa is already on, but also encourages continued creative thinking in how to utilize ICTs to benefit more Africans," said the Acting Vice-President Operations, African Development Bank, Gilbert Mbesherubusa.
The report showed how countries such as Kenya and Senegal are implementing ICT-enabled trade facilitation initiatives, and outlined the key role that Africa's Regional Economic Communities can play in supporting greater regional integration for boosting economic growth and reducing costs.
eTransform Africa also documented the flowering of technology hubs across Africa - such as iHub and NaiLab in Kenya, Hive CoLab and AppLab in Uganda, Activspaces in Cameroun, BantaLabs in Senegal, Kinu in Tanzania or infoDev's mLabs in Kenya and South Africa. These hubs are creating new spaces for collaboration, innovation, training, applications and content development, and for pre-incubation of African firms.
"Africa is rapidly becoming an ICT leader. Innovations that began in Africa - like dual SIM card mobile phones, or using mobile phones for remittance payments - are now spreading across the continent and beyond," said Tim Kelly, Lead ICT Policy Specialist at the World Bank and an author of the report. "The challenge going forward is to ensure that ICT innovations benefit all Africans, including the poor and vulnerable, and those living in remote areas."
According to eTransform Africa, the experiences so far offer many useful lessons for African policy makers seeking to maximise the transformational impact of ICTs.
The report noted that deployment of ICTs and the development of applications must be rooted in the realities of local circumstance and diversity, and added that governments have an important part to play in creating the enabling environment in which innovations and investments can flourish while serving as a lead client in adopting new innovations and technologies.
"Effective use of ICTs will require cross-sectoral collaboration and a multi-stakeholder approach, based on open data and open innovation. Most innovative ICT applications in Africa have been the result of pilot programmes", the report said, adding that now is the time for rigorous evaluation, replication and scaling-up of best practices.
eTransform Africa includes more than 20 case studies of ICT transformation in action in Africa, as well as a statistical annex presenting the latest data on mobile and broadband access in African countries.