Richard Heeks, Mobile Technology in Africa and Cameroonian Mail

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.

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3 responses to “Richard Heeks, Mobile Technology in Africa and Cameroonian Mail

  • amellan

    I like this article: straight forward, doesn’t shy away from obvious flaws and leaves room for growth. One of the interesting lines says: “the benefits of ICTs…could be even greater if more people understood how to use and take advantage of mobile phone technology.” It seems like a terribly simplified and obvious statement, but such is the development dilemma. A certain degree of social and economic incentives, in addition to human capital is necessary for programs to succeed.

    • clairedwyre

      I agree, it was a refreshing review of ICT’s and it could not be more true that a degree of social and economic incentives (as well as human capital) are needed for success. I also thought that it was very interesting that the spread of ICT’s has had a negative impact on the country level postal system.

  • laurag063

    I almost stopped reading your post after the quote “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,” but I guess I was just mis-reading your tone. I’m glad I kept reading because I felt relieved when you addressed how ludicrous that statement is, and how telling it is of how international aid is sometimes mis-prioritized. I even think it is really interesting sometimes to see the photos that come up when you Google search, ICT4D- things like children without shoes wielding cell phones. They almost make a mockery of the entire sector, but oftentimes, as sad as it is, these instances DO occur because of the misappropriation of grant money and the lack of attention to local needs. Thanks for addressing this!

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