It is well recognised that the gap between the rich and poor in Africa, as well as the world at large, is widening. The rapid rate at which technology is developing has the potential both to widen and narrow this gap. The power of people and communities to affect change is heavily dependent upon the level of information they are able to access.
With four out of five mobile phones found in less economically developed countries, mobile phone technology has immense potential to narrow the digital divide. And with almost three quarters of Africans now owning a mobile phone, the opportunities for that continent are limitless. Mobile phone applications have the potential to aid development in all sectors, by increasing access to information, aiding communication and enhancing choice.
While only approximately 10% of Africa’s population is currently connected to the internet, this proportion is rapidly expanding. Submarine cables enabling broadband access have now been installed on both sides of the continent and it is expected that the African broadband subscriber market will treble in size between 2009 and 2015 to approximately 25 million. Even today, in urban areas, the internet has the potential to enhance access to information, strengthen the capacity of individuals and communities and to stimulate social change and economic growth.
One of the largest challenges Africa faces is ensuring the right allocation of resources to meet the continent’s needs. To give an example, in 2008, exports of oil and minerals from Africa were worth approximately $393.9 billion, almost 9 times the value of international aid to the continent. However, some of the most resource-rich countries in the world are also some of the poorest and most politically unstable. The internet and mobile phone technology have the potential to increase transparency, expose corruption, enhance the capacity of political/social activists, strengthen democracy and hold governments to account.
ICT and Mobile technologies are incredibly versatile and have the potential to dramatically impact upon all spheres of development, including health, education, agriculture, democratic transparency, human rights, economics and finance. They have the potential to greatly expand the reach and benefits of already successful interventions, as well as for developing innovative solutions to age old problems.