Seeing as our readings this week were fairly pessimistic regarding the role of ICTs in development, particularly on the consumption end, I felt the need to seek out some reassuringly positive literature. One of the better articles I found in the last few days covered some of the impressive (though oft-inflated) data regarding the spread of mobile phone technologies throughout Africa over the last few years. Two of the more staggering statistics include the fact that Africa is now home to 650,000 mobile phone subscribers (more than the European Union), as well as the World Bank’s recent report which attributed an estimated 5 million new jobs in Africa last year to the mobile phone industry alone. The article also highlights benefits stemming from the increasing prevalence of mobile banking technologies in Africa, which before the this class was the ICT development field I was most familiar with. The article goes on to quote Samia Melhem, the World Bank’s Coordinator for Information and Communications Technologies for Africa, as saying: “”More people have access to internet today in Africa than they do to clean water, or even sanitation . . . we can say this has been the most significant revolution in terms of changing the African landscape and how people live their daily life.” This quote is presented seemingly without a sense of irony, though it seems to point out a pretty obvious flaw in the current structure of foreign aid. On a basic human level, clean water and basic sanitation seem to be exponentially more pressing priorities than spreading cellular technology to rural areas. In Richard Heeks’ article “ICTs and MDGs: On the Wrong Track?”, he applauds Bill Gates for continuing to focus his investments in Africa on healthcare and sanitation issues, while in other large organizations we’ve begun to see a shift of focus to ICTs. Though he comes off cantankerous, perhaps Heeks has a point here.
On a final, less relevant note, it looks like the ever-more-rapid spread of ICTs in Africa has had a hugely negative impact on country-level postal services that only recently were booming. There’s always something.