Addis Ababa — Local software production and development can spur economic growth in Africa and other developing economies, says a report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development.
The 'Information Economy Report 2012' shows that information and communication technology (ICT) software and services are dominated by the developed world but developing economies are catching up.
It says that piracy, poor ICT infrastructure and inadequate protection of intellectual property rights are some of the major challenges hindering ICT software development and service expansion in developing regions such as Africa.
However, for Africa and the Middle East the biggest challenge to the software industry is limited access to venture capital.
The report urges governments in developing countries - significant buyers of software - to help the software sector by putting in place policy measures to facilitate the development of affordable ICT infrastructure and introducing legal frameworks to protect intellectual property rights.
Enhanced access to ICTs in developing countries is widening opportunities in areas including health, education, governance and business creation and expansion, according to the report.
"Software production can contribute to the structural transformation of economies - that is, wean them away from dependence on low-technology goods and on a limited number of products for export," the report states
Kenya and South Africa top the continent in supplying software and services for domestic consumption, with areas of focus being smartphones and tablets, as well as mobile applications driven by mobile broadband Internet services.
"Software development is strategic for Africa's development as it offers a lot of opportunities," said Aida Opoku-Mensah, director of the ICT and Science & Technology Division of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), at the launch.
"Adapting software to local contexts helps firms to manage resources better, obtain information more efficiently and [set up] cost-effective business operations," she said.
Software development in African nations also creates market opportunities for developers and boosts learning, innovation and job creation in those countries, she explained.
Opoku-Mensah tells SciDev.Net that there is an encouraging trend in Africa of local ICT software development and use of services, particularly in countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa.
Ethiopia has taken the lead in Africa in adapting software developed elsewhere into local languages, for instance it turned English software into Amharic and Tigrinya with UNECA's assistance, according to Opoku-Mensah.
UNECA is working with partners and governments to adapt other software from industrialised countries into local languages, she said.
Daniel Adinew, an Ethiopian software engineer who developed a computer operating system called EthioNux, says that locally developed software helps to minimise dependency on foreign firms, which may place restrictions on the use of their products.
He adds that increasing software development can also stimulate the manufacturing of computer hardware.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan African desk.