African governments have failed to embrace technology

February 28, 2013

More than 700 Million Africans have mobile phones and over 13% of them have Internet access. Wikipedia, which is the cathedral of knowledge for many in the continent, mobile users are being offered free access by mobile operators like Orange. There is no doubt Africa is the least developed continent in the world and comes second after Asia in the use of mobile communications and successful use of available networks remains one of the few exception. When it comes to embracing technology, countries in Africa have failed to utilize technology and the fact of the matter is, Africa has a long way to go to catch up in tying its one billion citizens, services and businesses together. Inability by African governments to harness either the reality of available technology is widely viewed by many in the industry as a conspiracy designed by bureaucrats to hold the continent back.

Expanding Internet and telecommunications infrastructures are familiar to many from school going children to the villages based grandparents, skilled and unskilled workers. The Internet access is no longer a preserve of the rich but now almost 7 in every 10 Africans feel at home browsing worldwide web browser using their mobile phones. Africans have embraced technology while their government agencies have failed terribly. Browsing many government websites across the continent gives you an indication of how ignorant the states are when it comes to technology and some websites have never been updated for close to a decade. In most countries, to renew a passport, one has to travel hundreds of miles if not thousand plus to where the centrally positioned passport offices are. At that point, one has to sit and stand in lines and even spend a fortune for a couple of days waiting for the document.

Very few governments take appointments and relevant information by phone, email or website which has greatly worked in progressive countries like South Africa and Kenya where the governments have cut the lines, reduced waiting times and has made the country one of leaders in provision of digital information that does not require typing and re-typing. There are remote medical operations and classrooms in the clouds have been happening in Kenya and I see no reason why other countries cant follow the same path. Hospitals in Kenya and South Africa have stepped into the computer age but in most other countries they have largely remained in the graphite age. I see no justification for an ailing granny to enter a hospital where clerks and nurses must swap files to get information from one doctor to another.

African countries starting with government and businesses need to embrace work from home that is largely supported by technology. Working from home whether you are in public or private sector, there are plenty of savings with less workspace needed, equipment and minimal energy and water bills. Most of government business can be run without the need of a physical office and government offices, ministries and departments would benefit by arranging to let some staff work at home, at least for part of the work week and this can work for many industries as well therefore ‘un-tagging’ the continent from the ‘most expensive’ continent to do business which affects long term investments. The succeed, African government departments will have to work through in a similar way that has seen thousands of departments and companies worldwide implementing such initiatives to drive down their costs. The key to empowering the continent urban and rural residents lies in the hands of the governments and only use of technology can stop the continent from being branded the ‘20th century continent’.

Contador Harrison