KIT-Logo Christopher Coenen, Ulrich Riehm

Development Through Electronic Networks
Information and Communication Technologies in Africa

Berlin: Büro für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag (TAB), 2009
Series: Technology Assessment Studies Series, No 1, 272 pages

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Since the 1990s, Africa has moved back up the political agenda, thanks above all to the United Nations Millennium Declaration and to Africa’s own efforts to achieve reform and unity. The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to promote social development, on the other hand, continues on the whole to be marginalised in the international development policy debate. It is true that the subject has received a certain amount of attention, in which Africa has had its share, on account of the two-phase United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (2003/2005), but outside the continent, a development policy community comprising for the most part only non-government actors, a small number of »Northern« states and a handful of international organisations has adopted the issue so far.

A glance at the current programmes and strategies put in place by African states and regional organisations, the practices and representations made by the institutions of African civil society and the development in Africa – in some cases extremely rapid – of the Internet and mobile telephony, however, shows how topical the subject is. The fact that Africa itself is interested in putting information and communication technologies to use in a way that will benefit the continent’s development is in itself enough to ensure that German development policy and co-operation will have to devote its ongoing attention to this subject and clarify its own strategy.

It is against this backdrop that this report by the TAB investigates in particular the current state of Internet use in Africa south of the Sahara and its potential for the future. Three areas of application, which largely correspond to the priority areas designated by the German government, form the central focus of this analysis:

The enquiry, commissioned by the Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment of the German Bundestag (i.e. the German parliament) in co-operation with the Committee on Economic Co-operation and Development, is primarily concerned with Internet use. Nonetheless, it does not regard the Internet as being detached from other information and communication technologies, whether conventional (e.g. radio and television) or new (e.g. mobile telephony). In consequence, the analysis also contributes to the overall discussion of the use of information and communication technologies for development(ICT4D). As far as German development co-operation is concerned, an insufficient strategic clarification of the importance of »ICT4D« is evident.

This report will present an evaluation of the current and probable future importance for African development of the Internet and other ICTs, and an account of the study’s main findings with regard to the status quo in sub-Saharan Africa and the three key areas of application on which the study focused. In conclusion, concrete courses of action for individual areas of practice will be indicated, and general guidelines aimed at clarifying the strategic importance of ICT4D in German development co-operation will be put forward for discussion.

Generally speaking, the Internet in sub-Saharan Africa – though considerable differences exist between the various groups of stakeholders and states – is still an elite medium. In 2005, approx. 3% of the sub-Saharan population used the Internet, the rate in many states being below 1 %. The fact that the Internet is used to a relatively low extent in sub-Saharan Africa, however, must be qualified and put into context in a number of respects:

Nonetheless, there is still a very great need for systematic monitoring and an extensive evaluation of ICT4D activities. Unless there is a marked improvement in the knowledge base in this area, it is likely that many activities will also not produce the desired results in the future. Even within the development cooperation activities of individual donor countries, there is room for improvement as regards the state of knowledge about and the coordination of ICTrelevant activities.

Whether there are political grounds for promoting the use of ICTs in developing countries must – in line with the international consensus on development policy – be determined on the basis of how suitable these technologies are for making a contribution to the elimination of poverty and to the achievement of the other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) contained in the United Nations (UN)Millennium Declaration. Although many question marks remain in this context and a stronger »pro-poor« orientation is urged in many cases, considerable potential is evident and indeed a number of actual successes can be pointed to in areas such as education and health. In addition, the use of ICTs can make sense when it comes to strengthening governmental and non-governmental structures regarded as crucial for the development of society as a whole. In Africa, together with reform countries and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Union (AU) are important partners.

To date, the general verdict as to the chances offered by Internet use has been inconclusive: although there are examples showing that the Internet can directly play a useful role in combating poverty and achieving the MDGs (e.g. in the area of healthcare), its deployment often does not yet appear practicable due to a lack of basic prerequisites (from literacy levels in the general population and good governance structures to the availability of electric power). It is above all, therefore, the elites in the widest sense who are likely to profit from use of the Internet – teachers and non-governmental organisations, institutions of higher education and national and pan-African stakeholders.

No universal Formula for the Use of ICT for Development

Current studies initially show that the use of ICTs has a positive effect on productivity and economic growth, albeit not at the same level across all industries and countries. If one compares the developed and the developing countries, it is noticeable that the use of ICTs has a stronger impact on economic growth in the former than in the latter. What is more, economic and social development do not necessarily go hand in hand; positive economic development can, especially in developing countries, actually be accompanied by a widening in social inequality. Social inequality, particularly when it is extreme, can also prevent economic growth in the longer term. As far as strategies for development policy are concerned, this means that it is not enough simply to pin one’s hopes on economic growth, and that this must be complemented by a policy aimed at improving the quality of life equally for everyone.

In principle, the diffusion of mobile telephones, computers and the Internet follows the same pattern, i.e. general growth accompanied by increased differentiation. Though developing countries are making increasing use of these technologies, they are not catching up with the developed countries. Incontestably, some ICT4D projects have brought about positive effects, as this TAB report shows in various areas. Overall, however, the progress achieved hitherto is somewhat sobering, for a number of reasons: because many projects failed or could not be established on a sustainable basis; because the desired effects in terms of development policy did not materialise; because the use of ICTs was not embedded within a framework of wide-ranging development strategies; because investments were made in the wrong technologies, i.e. ones not adapted to the local circumstances; and because no comprehensive, well-founded evaluations were carried out.

The discussion as a whole indicates that there is no universal formula for using ICTs in line with development policy goals. Prerequisites for the successful use of ICTs include the following: a strategic focus on the Millennium Development Goals, due consideration of the local circumstances and conditions, active participation of the persons and institutions directly involved, coordinated collaboration between development co-operation organisations, long-term and sustainable planning, continuous monitoring of project progress, and avoidance of negative side-effects.

The Situation in Sub-Saharan Africa:
Chasing without Catching up

An overview of the general social conditions and situation as regards the dissemination of ICTs south of the Sahara reveals a mixed picture: despite all the progress in key areas, e.g. with respect to democratic forms of government, debt reduction and economic growth, Africa is in overall terms the continent that in recent decades has lagged furthest behind the rest of the world, development in many sub-Saharan countries being particularly dismal. Any such statements, it should be borne in mind, are subject to the proviso that the differences within sub-Saharan Africa and within the individual countries are in some cases extremely great.

This paradoxical picture – progress without ever catching up – is equally evident in the domain of ICT. Following a prolonged period of stagnation, recent years have seen considerable growth, particularly in the area of mobile telephony. This is linked, among other things, to the waves of privatisation and liberalisation of the telecommunications sector in the 1990s that led to the introduction of competition in the mobile phone sector in almost all African countries. Both the pan-African institutions and national governments have presented ICT action plans aimed, for example, at expanding the African information infrastructure, improving IT education at all levels, from primary school to university, and creating export-oriented ICT service centres.

Africa’s ICT infrastructure, especially its links to international electronic networks, together with the creation of networks within the African continent, continues to be poor. Possible advances through more intensive use of the undersea broadband cable along Africa’s Atlantic coast have hardly been realised to date due to restrictive access regulations. For political and financial reasons, the longplanned extension of the submarine cable on the east coast has been repeatedly delayed. The much wider use of mobile telephones has exacerbated the »fixed network crisis«, with investments in this area failing to keep up with demand.

As far as use of ICTs is concerned, radio is the most popular, remaining far more widespread than television, the second mass medium. Political reforms have been one factor in the emergence of a diverse radio landscape, one that is partly commercial, partly state-funded, and partly financed by development organisations. In many African countries this radio network offers programmes that are tailored to local information needs. Mobile telephones have not only far outstripped fixed line telephones in terms of usage, but continue to exhibit high rates of growth. Nevertheless, Africa still ranks bottom as compared with other continents. First and foremost, it is the urban middle classes who are able to afford their own mobile phones. In rural areas, however, there is great scope for community use of mobile telephones – potential that is already being tapped to some extent by development co-operation projects. The picture as regards use of the Internet is rather similar to that for mobile telephony, albeit on an even lower level. The growth rates are relatively high, yet the level lags well behind that of other regions of the world. The costs of using the Internet are still extremely high as compared with other countries, and therefore unaffordable for the majority of the impoverished population of sub-Saharan Africa.

Democracy, good Governance and civil Society

»Democratisation, good governance and civil society« is a focal area in German development co-operation and the country’s partnership with Africa. The priority here is to identify new possibilities for action on the part of both government administrators and civil society actors. What can ICT contribute to development in this field, and what is it already achieving, not least in supporting a democratic political public sphere?

State and administrative Action

Examining the handful of existing external and internal evaluations of egovernment projects in developing countries, it is easy to gain the impression that the overall appraisals they contain are hardly sufficient to support robust generalisations. Clearly, however, there is a series of e-government projects which have been successful in meeting even the higher-level goals of development cooperation. At the same time, on the other hand, it seems plausible to assume a high failure rate, especially in cases where planning proves unrealistic in terms of the existing conditions relating to infrastructure, qualifications and administrative culture. The concerted efforts to improve the Internet presence of government institutions, particularly noticeable at the beginning of the decade, must in any case be regarded critically, especially when these take place independently of any general increase in internal administrative efficiency. In the medium- to long-term, however, the advantages of e-government, even in sub-Saharan Africa, would appear to be that government institutions (especially the people’s representatives) are easier to reach electronically and that extensive online information can be provided. An urgent priority is greater involvement of organised civil society through the use of ICTs. From the point of view of democratic governance, the fundamental question arises whether more efficient government action is in fact desirable in countries under authoritarian rule.

Nonetheless, ICTs offer much scope for making administrative and government action not only more efficient and more effective, but also more democratic, which potentially can be expected to contribute substantially to the development of society as a whole. To adapt what is offered to poor segments of the population, however, and to help overcome or prevent poverty, additional efforts are needed: first, the target groups among the poorer segments and their specific requirements must be precisely identified. Furthermore, it may be useful – especially in areas where the costs of using the Internet are still exorbitantly high – to create e-government centres or to make greater use of existing facilities (community telecentres, community media). In addition, e-government can be expected to have a beneficial impact on development when the use of ICTs goes hand in hand with a comprehensive and sustained administrative reform (including training at all administrative levels, particularly local ones) and with a focus on the poorer sections of the population.

Civil Society and the political public Sphere

In sub-Saharan Africa there is a whole host of civil society organisations, projects (including in the area of development co-operation), groups, individuals and media stakeholders for whom the Internet already plays a central role or could play such a role given better conditions for access and use. To this may be added the wide use of the Internet by transnational networks who are based in, or who communicate intensively with, this region of the world and by the diaspora. The key functions offered by the Internet are the same for users south of the Sahara, namely easier transnational exchange (where physical distance is irrelevant) and self-portrayal through websites, the use of online information resources, access to or creation of political public spheres and the mobilisation of supporters and, in the case of some actors, the improvement of internal networks. Non-governmental organisations often note that a great deal still needs to be done in the area of ICTs, in terms of both quantity and quality, that is to say also as regards new ICTs.

Having a website is frequently seen as a sign of professionalism. Moreover, to achieve an »eye-to-eye partnership« with »Northern« actors (especially in development co-operation where NGOs are concerned) it is important to be able to use e-mail. Transnational communication is also essential for civil society organisations, political opposition parties and others who have a matter they wish to communicate to the international, pan-African or national public sphere (including the diaspora). It is noticeable that non-governmental organisations and civil society networks specialising in ICT form a diverse and closely interwoven ICT- and Africa-based Internet public sphere that continued to thrive even after the second UN World Summit on the Information Society (Tunis 2005). Their specific competencies are increasingly benefiting the activities of African civil society as a whole, as the example of the women’s movement shows.

The Internet can also serve as a relatively inexpensive means of reaching the general public (e.g. as compared to newspapers, flyers or posters), especially when it supplements other channels of communication. It has a relatively low direct impact, but does reach potential information multipliers and influential actors, allows abundant information to be made publicly accessible and, what is more, offers a high level of interaction. E-mails have long played a central role in political debates and are also used to send information to large numbers of people in sub-Saharan Africa. Among the risks that Internet use entails are new opportunities for propaganda, communication and recruitment on the part of political fanatics.

Using the Internet in conjunction with other ICTs means that some organisations can also improve internal networks and the general efficiency of their work, especially with long-distance partners. In journalism, the Internet is already an integral part of the working day in many places: while providing an online edition of established newspapers and magazines is merely one additional benefit (albeit a considerable one when one thinks, for example, of the diaspora), the Internet has become a vital means of research and communication for journalists themselves. This applies not only to journalists in big cities but, if anything, even more so to their colleagues in peripheral rural areas. Moreover, an anonymous online publication on politically sensitive issues is relatively safe. Media development co-operation often concentrates in particular on providing training and continuing education and (at least in Germany, and worldwide according to the World Bank) is not given the weight within development cooperation that it deserves in view of the importance of the public sphere for democracy. There seems to be a great deal of room for improvement, in particular in the ICT equipment that is available to journalists.

The results of the TAB study show that the Internet, even for groups with »Internet affinity«, often only has a significant political benefit when combined with other means of communication. Given the wide dissemination of radio in sub-Saharan Africa and the rapidly increasing number of mobile phone users everywhere, it is natural to use the Internet, above all, in a complementary role. As regards the strategic use of ICTs for political campaigns and protests (»eactivism «), the use of text messaging is of particular interest in developing countries; there are also the first signs of and considerable potential for text messagebased political activism south of the Sahara, e.g. for the purposes of civil society election monitoring. Particular potential is offered by the combination of text messaging and the Internet in e-activism campaigns where the Internet can be used to address an interested – even international – public and organise the campaign itself.

There are many reasons for assuming that considerable numbers of users in some countries take advantage of the Internet for political information and communication above and beyond the work that is done in NGOs. This is evident not only from the websites, mailing lists and online networks of professional providers in the field of journalism and transnationally-organised civil society networking organisations: even the political websites of individuals and small groups are already forming wider spheres of public awareness via the Internet, especially in populous countries with relatively high Internet penetration rates like Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. A pan-African digital discourse that includes the diaspora is being created, at least potentially. One political advantage is that Africans in the diaspora, who tend to have greater resources and more international contacts at their disposal, can receive direct reports from their homeland. In an ideal situation, the online discussion forums of the diaspora itself can become a place of exchange between the followers of opposed groups, though they can also reflect and even deepen existing dividing lines. It is a testimony to the growing role played in Africa by the Internet-based political public sphere that the governments or individual politicians in some countries assign considerable value to this sphere and to their own Internet use.

ICT Use in Industry and Trade

Networked computer applications in industry are relevant on the one hand to internal, business-oriented needs and, on the other, to cross-company, tradeoriented requirements. It is hardly surprising that these applications are not particularly widespread in Africa as compared with most of the countries in the northern hemisphere. Not only are the prerequisites for the deployment of ICTs poor; even the fundamental conditions for business are not computer-friendly: in overall terms, the southern African economy is still largely agriculturebased, with the informal sector dominating both in the country and in large cities. Trade, transport and transaction infrastructures (financial payments, banks) are inadequate virtually everywhere. Given that this is the case, it would appear to make little sense to promote the deployment of ICTs solely in the business domain. Only if this is enshrined within a comprehensive policy of economic development with a long-term outlook can the potential be tapped that doubtless exists for the economy and only then is it conceivable that e-business and ecommerce could develop and catch up.

In small and medium-sized enterprises the telephone is more or less the standard means of business communication, with mobile phones predominating. All the same, there is relatively high demand for fixed network connections (that are as inexpensive as possible) for fax and Internet use. Computers and the Internet are available far less frequently, especially in the informal sector. There is immediate economic potential for small-scale rural businesswomen, for instance, if supported by micro-credits to pay for mobile phone services.

A widely discussed proposal focuses on mobile phone-based banking and payment services, as these could close an existing gap in the financial transactions infrastructure. The few systems that are available are not in widespread use and are operated either directly by banks or by mobile phone providers. However, they are run on a credit basis and are limited to small amounts, which means that they cannot be seen as a fully-fledged substitute for a bank account. Future development, especially of bank-independent mobile payment services, will depend on the attitude of policy-makers to this innovation (especially as regards its regulation) and on the influence of the banks. As a rule, banks have no interest in helping new rivals such as mobile phone companies that offer their own financial payment services to business and private customers.

Computers and the Internet are used widely in the formal sector of the economy. Internet use is dominated by information-, communication- and marketingoriented transactions; business transactions carried out directly on the Internet are fairly rare. These are most likely to be encountered in the subsidiaries and branches of large international corporations or in the African suppliers of such multinationals. In these situations the need to use computers and the Internet is generally not in question, as it is regarded as a given in international business relations. However, by participating in international electronic business transactions, African firms enter into direct competition with many other companies from developed and developing countries. This generates opportunities, yet also considerably increases the economic pressure. Supplementary strategies and, for some companies, even alternative ones should thus be targeted towards local markets within Africa or, on the level of international trade, should attempt to find niche markets for specialised African products.

Effectively, the problem of the African economy is not that the use of ICTs represents a major hurdle for internationally-oriented African businesses, but that there are too few such companies and the economic framework conditions are poor. Development aid should therefore be geared to promoting the use of ICTs as part of a long-term economic development policy whose central focus is on improving opportunities for African trade.

Education, Research and technological Development

As far as the education of children and young people is concerned, the theory that modern ICTs can play a motivational role cannot be ignored. Despite the risk, which has been much in discussion again recently, of children and young people using computers and the Internet in a way that appears to have little educational value or is indeed detrimental, there is no doubt that independent use of new ICTs and access to the Internet also present opportunities. On the other hand, an ICT-based »opening up to the world« can contribute to the destruction of cultural traditions worthy of preservation. If this is borne in mind and if scope is created for people to put their new skills to good use in their professional lives on a local level (or at least within Africa), the positive effects can be expected to outweigh the negative ones.

Some evidence is already available in sub-Saharan Africa from projects aimed at supplying schools with computers and Internet access and using ICTs in teacher training. School projects would appear to benefit development if, on the one hand, ICT skills are specifically targeted and, on the other, the right framework conditions are put in place to ensure that the projects are sustainable (e.g. government capping of costs for school Internet use, establishment of inexpensive advisory and maintenance services for schools, exploitation of the potential offered by free and open-source software and solutions to the problems of disposal). Software and hardware solutions should be chosen such that even older computers can be used effectively, costs of ownership are not too high and the costs of maintenance and administration are as low as possible.

African e-leaning skills and content are noticeably gaining in strength, and this is likely to have a beneficial effect on development provided that the Internet infrastructure (including aspects of cost) in sub-Saharan Africa is significantly improved. Access to knowledge and information via the Internet can satisfy a basic demand among teachers at primary and secondary level, among self-study students and among the various participants in informal teaching (including the staff of development aid agencies). In teacher training and other areas of tertiary education, e-learning and Internet access already present numerous opportunities, even if the content and courses on offer come from the »North«. Providing that those learning are sufficiently motivated and have enough spare time, the institutions or companies in which they work can also profit indirectly. Here too, the importance of additional motivation generated by enthusiasm for technology, together with generally improved individual opportunities on the labour market, should not be underestimated. In the case of teachers at primary and secondary level, however, one must ensure at the same time that tangible material incentives are provided to encourage them to put the skills they have acquired to use in the area of education.

The Internet is of the highest importance for academics in particular because their work situation in sub-Saharan Africa is for the most part problematic. Nowadays, the opportunities offered by the Internet for research, information, communication, networking and efficiency are not only an essential prerequisite for academic work, but have an even higher significance in sub-Saharan Africa than in developed countries. From a costs-benefit point of view, supplementing libraries with digitally available knowledge would appear to be a highly promising step, although areas such as the equipping of African university libraries, ICT qualifications and the development of appropriate models of open online access to knowledge still present considerable challenges. In any case, the political desire for greater co-operation and productivity within the African research community cannot possibly be fulfilled without major improvements in the area of ICT. This is particularly true of the declared objective not only of developing centres of excellence but also of promoting the broader research community. The benefits of ICTs, however, especially as regards timeconsuming international co-operation, are in some cases severely limited on account of fundamental difficulties in the work and lives of African scientists. Nonetheless, universities can also push forward the use of ICTs by society as a whole and, what is more, can contribute in the area of software to developing home-grown African technology. Besides basic infrastructural deficiencies in sub-Saharan Africa and at the universities themselves, a lack of ICT-relevant skills and an often far from perfect style of governance (especially on the part of politicians and university authorities) have been the primary obstacles to development so far.

Generally speaking, African and »Northern« stakeholders appear to be justified in attributing a key role to ICTs when it comes to boosting education, research and technological development in sub-Saharan Africa. Developments and potentials in the area of ICT show that modern ICTs, if used in a way that reflects the requirements and is conducive to development, can be a central element in realising the ideals of a knowledge society and economy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Possible Courses of Action

What conclusions can be drawn from the results of the TAB project with respect to German development co-operation with Africa in the area of ICT? Possible courses of action will be outlined below for selected fields, the focus once again being on the three key areas of application which form the subject of the study.

Infrastructure and Regulation

Support provided to help African states and pan-African and international players to improve ICT infrastructure and regulation should be continued and intensified, as it is here that the greatest positive effects are likely across all the different areas of action. The primary objectives in this context should be to reduce the costs of using ICTs, to ensure equal access for the landlocked developing countries of Africa, and to improve the situation considerably in rural areas and, more generally, in peripheral socioeconomic regions. A basic prerequisite for this infrastructure to be used in a way that will benefit development is to empower civil society stakeholders on all levels.

One prominent activity in this connection is the implementation of the East African submarine cable EASSy project; Germany should continue to provide support within the constructive role it is already playing. If this project is implemented and developed in a user-friendly way that takes the specific requirements of Africa’s landlocked countries into account, the pressure of competition and the exemplary role played by EASSy could lead to an improvement in the generally unsatisfactory situation as regards the West African submarine cable.

Africa, our continental Neighbour

It is widely agreed that Africa, as Europe’s continental neighbour, deserves greater political and public attention and should benefit from more intensive transcontinental communication and co-operation. The African diaspora in Europe, experts in African studies, non-governmental organisations in Africa and Europe, and journalists, among others, have a central part to play here, especially as regards the role of the Internet and new ICTs in general. A great deal of importance is also attached to exchanges between the citizens of African and European countries, for example contact between young people. Here too, Internet communication can play a significant role. Forums for exchange can be made available by creating appropriate government or government-funded online portals (e.g. under the banner »Neighbouring Africa«), which ideally should be multilingual. The Internet could thus also be increasingly used to help achieve a breakthrough by persuading the German public to adopt a more nuanced view of Africa. Better coordination of development co-operation and cultural policy would be helpful, as it is particularly in the area of culture that the processes of globalisation can become processes of mutual learning. Partly thanks to the possibilities that the Internet has opened up for trade (e.g. music) and advertising, economic opportunities are also presented for African artists and the country’s cultural economy.

Good Governance, Democracy and civil Society

Good governance is a field of action that in many respects is well-suited to being a focus of the ICT-related activities of German development co-operation: for one thing, Germany’s internationally recognised commitment in this area could profit if the country were additionally to make its mark in the area of ICT4D. For another thing, German co-operation is already pursuing a relatively large number of ICT4D activities. ICT, after all, can make it easier to achieve several particularly important development goals in this context, e.g. the fight against corruption, the strengthening of civil society and the media environment in Africa, the development of rural regions and the promotion of pan-African and regional integration.

Of particular importance in this context is the »African Peer Review Mechanism « (APRM). This good governance programme, conceived by NEPAD for the mutual support and control of African states, is regarded as a central element of pan-African aspirations towards further democratisation. To make this instrument even more efficient, increased support of the national APRM processes is needed. The ICT requirements of civil society stakeholders who are to play a key role in these processes and beyond are high. What is more, it would be highly desirable to use the Internet to improve co-operation between government players and organised civil society. A further priority of German Africa policy, namely the strengthening of parliamentarianism, suggests that it would likewise be valuable to promote more intensive co-operation and support of African partners in the area of ICT, such as the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) of the African Union (AU). Other fields are relevant to e-government on a national level, e.g. financial management in the civil service, healthcare and health management, access management through the establishment of one-stop shops and general improvement of service provision in rural areas. Particular importance should be attached to giving due consideration to local factors. This concerns, among other things, the infrastructural prerequisites, the ICT skills of political and civil service players, their work cultures and the language diversity in many African countries. In local governance structures, even greater emphasis could be placed on the integration of ICT components to strengthen civil society. Another obvious step would be to continue promoting geographical information systems, as there is considerable room for improvement in this area in sub-Saharan Africa. The use of ICTs also has great potential in the fight against corruption.

Given the relatively extensive use of IT that is already in place in civil society and journalism within sub-Saharan Africa, increased efforts in the realm of development co-operation are clearly worthwhile: besides bringing about an improvement (which would be virtually cost-free) in the networks linking development aid agencies and other German stakeholders to these groups (thereby enabling a more intensive exchange and the creation of new publication possibilities) and extending training activities in the media industry and for NGOs, it is essential above all to improve the infrastructure and reduce the costs of ICT use. In addition to upgrading media development co-operation and taking forward measures for ICT-based training and continuing education, greater support of democratic media stakeholders and non-governmental organisations in the form of ICT equipment would be sensible. Another initiative worth considering would be support for a longer-term »e-activism« pilot project based on a »technology mix« (e.g. Internet, radio and text messaging) with the aim of improving the scope for action by civil society players (e.g. women’s organisations) and contributing to fair democratic elections. It is also conceivable that the installation of ICT-based warning systems for populations in war zones could be funded, systems that could be used during international support and protection activities. Relevant measures could also include a German initiative to set up an international ICT fund for non-governmental organisations in the poorest countries and, more generally, to stimulate and promote Public Private Partnerships to support NGOs with ICTs.

Education, Science and ICT Skills

Even though there continues to be considerable need for evaluation and research as regards the use of ICT4D in education, certain fields of application can be regarded as particularly appropriate. Worthy of mention in this context is the training and further education of teachers, together with distance learning, which plays a very important role, particularly in Africa. Better levels of ICT equipment in schools, in conjunction with sustainable use concepts and generally improved equipment, likewise appear to make sense. Possible partners here are the e-Africa Commission of NEPAD and SchoolNet Africa. The goal of supplying all children with their own computers, on the other hand, is highly controversial. The vision pursued by the foundation »One Laptop per Child« (OLPC) with its »100 dollar laptop« initiative, invites objections, among other things, to its educational ideas and financing scheme. In view of the huge potential – both positive and negative – of this initiative, which was welcomed by Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Co-operation and Development as a step in the right direction, accompanying measures within the framework of development co-operation would seem wise. The same applies to competing projects and products. In this connection, as in many others, a reinforcement of African capabilities in information ethics, technology assessment and expertise on the ecological impact of ICT use would be a goal worthy of aspiration.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Internet use in higher education presents particular opportunities, which include the development of home-grown African technology. This would benefit science and research and their integration into the international community, and would strengthen the role of the Internet within national innovation systems. As a prerequisite for rapid success, together with improvements in the infrastructure and an appropriate setting of priorities by politicians and science managers in Africa, intensified activities would be needed on the part of the »Northern« actors in scientific and technical co-operation and German development co-operation. The European Union (EU) has recently stepped up its activities in this area. In this connection the sub-Saharan academic consortia which jointly purchase more bandwidth at lower prices (»bandwidth consortia «), as well as the national research and education networks (NREN) and other academic networks, should be further expanded as strategic partners. A key role in intensifying scientific co-operation, including Internet use, can be played by African studies and other disciplines directly concerned with Africa. Of particular importance also is the experience acquired in completed and ongoing ITC-related research projects on which African and European or German partners have already co-operated. The prioritisation of e-learning in Africa that has been undertaken by various German institutions appears reasonable, given the special potential that exists for such programmes in sub-Saharan Africa. Developments in free and open-source software also offer great opportunities, although this presupposes a considerable improvement in relevant expertise and greater popularity of this type of software in Africa.

An Overview of the possible Courses of Action

In light of the results of the TAB study, the following possible courses of action, relating in particular to Africa, appear particularly relevant to development policy:

The strategic Orientation of German Development Co-Operation

Deficits are evident in the strategic orientation of German development cooperation when it comes to the subject of ICT4D. To eliminate these deficits, the report proposes a broad dialogue, involving politicians, academics, business leaders, civil society representatives and development co-operation actors, not to mention actors from the developing countries and the diaspora. A strategic response to the questions relevant to ICT4D needs to be worked out on the basis of a comprehensive analysis and discussion of the current situation. The following general principles should be particularly emphasised:

In other words, the question of the opportunities the Internet creates for developing countries is only one aspect of the more general question of the benefits offered by ICTs for specific development goals. Hitherto, Internet communication in the world’s »South« has been relevant, above all, to established and alternative elites who, to varying extents, already benefit from development cooperation (e.g. e-government, journalists’ training, funding of educational institutions and support of civil society organisations). In a world that is largely organised through communication based on electronic networks, however, the populations of developing countries also need access to the whole spectrum of modern ICTs. As a core element of this spectrum and the driver of globalisation processes, the Internet is thus becoming indispensable for a growing number of people and organisations in the global »South«. It can improve the opportunities for democracy and modernisation, help to bring about structural changes within society and drive forward integration in processes of cultural, economic and political globalisation. Social change and greater participation in globalisation processes, however, also involve new challenges. If the developing countries and their partners do not face up to these challenges, the spread of modern information and communication technologies and electronic networks threatens to contribute to a further intensification of social inequalities.


Erstellt am: 05.05.2010 - Kommentare an: webmaster