IT revolutionizes Africa′s business sector | Africa | DW | 24.04.2013
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Africa

IT revolutionizes Africa's business sector

Day laborers in many African countries can hardly find a job without having a cell phone. This is one of the topics discussed at "Africa Business Week" held in Frankfurt (22 - 26 April).

Felchesmi Mramba, the manager of the Tanzanian electricity provider TANESCO, believes that mobile technology has revolutionized the business world.

Speaking to DW, he enthusiastically explained how the technological development has simplified his work. From reading the electricity meter to payment processes – everything is handled via mobile phone and Internet.

"Even now as I am here in Germany, I can purchase electricity for my home. This is a real revolution on the technological side," he said.

ICT sector is growing strongly

Experts and visitors to "Africa Business Week" agree that information and communication technology, in short ICT, is bringing development in all sectors, be it the energy sector, healthcare or education. It is also boosting the economy in Africa.

M-Pesa billboard in Kenya. Photo: Alfred Kiti

A mobile money transfer app (M-Pesa) has been developed in Kenya but lacks regulations

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), ICT in Kenya accounts for almost a quarter of economic growth since the year 2000. In Cameroon, 15 percent of the economy in the period 2000-2008 came from the ICT sector.

But these numbers can be deceptive, because they don't apply to the whole continent. Malawi, for example, is far behind trailblazers such as Kenya, as the Malawian Information Minister Moses Kunkuyu points out.

"The biggest challenge is to reach out to the rural people, who are actually the food basket for the country," Kunkuyu told DW. He says he wants to take ICTs to them, in order to increase the farmers' earnings.

No cell phone, no job

Researchers like Jasper Grosskurth from the Kenyan research institute Research Solutions Africa point out that in countries with very high rates of mobile phones and Internet users, there is a so called digital divide.

A woman with a cell phone in her hands. Foto: Gero Breloer +++(c) dpa - Report+++

Mobile phones are used to process electricity payments in Tanzania

"There is a group of people who are under enormous pressure to invest more into phones and phone credits, because otherwise they cannot even get a job as a day laborer."

That is the dilemma faced by people who cannot swim with the technology wave. "They have to make an investment, which is more than their daily pay, just to hang in there."

But also for the people who make excessively use of the Internet, especially with their mobile phones, the IT revolution harbors risks, Grosskurth said. When using Facebook, he noted, data are systematically collected and could be used to harm the users.

Innovation offensive

The IT section needs to be developed in several ways, said UNCTAD's head of ICT analysis, Torbjörn Fredriksson. "The focus should not only be on the infrastructure, but building up the skills to make use of ICTs."

Fredricksson says that donor communities should support innovation and entrepreneurship locally so that African countries and African businesses become better equipped to both adapt and develop new technologies in relevant areas.

Fredriksson points out that already in some African countries there is a new market for developers of smart phone applications. Some of them such as mobile money transfer, developed in Kenya, has already been recognized worldwide. But there is no law that regulates the money transfer business. Policy markers now have to work on that.

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