Don’t Overlook Africa’s Tech Sector

“Africa’s Boom Is Over,” lamented Rick Rowden in the headline for his Foreign Policy article on the last day of the year, last year. “Africa was never going to get far without manufacturing — and it can’t do so under today’s trade and investment treaties,” Rowden said.

The problem with people like Rowden is that they can only perceive of an Africa that grows because of its mineral or oil wealth, or because of manufacturing. However you only need to look at Rwanda to realise how flawed this perception is. There’s a lot more to Africa than just oil and precious metals. What about technology and infrastructure, which can make a meaningful contribution to economic growth?

Let’s just take the research on the relationship between economic growth and broadband penetration. World Bank data shows that for every 10% growth in broadband penetration, a country with a low to middle income experiences gross domestic product growth of well over 1%.

Rwanda is a great example what a big difference infrastructure and an investment in technology can make to a country. Just over twenty years ago when South Africans were at the polls to vote in this country’s first democratic elections, Rwanda was caught in the grip of a horrifying and heart-wrenching genocide, in which some 800,000 people lost their lives.

"One Laptop Per Child" - A Rwandan initiative aimed at offering school goers access to technology, which is part of that country's Vision20/20 policy. Photo by One Laptop Per Child. Lisenced through Creative Commons.

“One Laptop Per Child” – An international initiative, founded by Nicholas Negroponte, aimed at offering school-goers access to technology, as part of Rwanda’s Vision20/20 policy. Photo by One Laptop Per Child. Licensed through Creative Commons.

But Rwanda has rebuilt itself, and it did this using technology. That country’s leadership created a programme to reinvigorated the state. Called Vision 2020, the plan was encapsulated in an IT policy that was formulated over two years during 1998 to 1999. It was important for the government to get public buy-in, and so a series of ‘national reflection sessions’ were held to inspire Rwandans to turn from the past towards the future. Together Rwandans would think about and help create the nation brand they wanted to become.

The technology policy was well-executed and offered major benefits to business and to voters, regardless of whether they lived in well populated urban areas like Kigali, or more remote rural areas. For example, David White, reporting for the Financial Times of London writes about how people can now do land transfers online.

“Registering a land transfer in an outlying village in Rwanda requires a number of journeys — to the nearest subdistrict office to get forms to fill in, which then have to be notarised, to a bank to pay the notary’s fees, then back to the government office, probably returning later to check the status of the process,” White writes, adding that from mid-2014 all of this could be done online. “For people with no internet-capable device of their own, this could be done at a government centre, or a cybercafé, or the place perhaps where they already buy phone airtime and do their mobile banking.”

White adds that the land transfer service is emblematic of the Rwandan authorities’ vision of an ICT-enabled economy. “E-government, e-health, smart agriculture — these are all part of the official credo — and “you can do it online” has become the Rwandan bureaucratic catchphrase,” White writes.

The benefit of Rwanda’s investment in technology? In July 2015, the World Bank projected an economic growth rate of 7.4% in 2015 for Rwanda, which would climb to 7.6% in 2016. The World Bank also projected that Rwanda’s poverty rate would decline from 63% in 2011 to 54% in 2016. What this means is that the country will move some one million people above the poverty rate.


Read more about how technology is growing Africa:

A recent piece by Rick Rowden suggests that Africa’s boom is over. He couldn’t be more wrong. By Eric MK Osiakwan.

Rwanda’s vision of an ICT-enabled economy by David White in the FT.

Connecting a continent: Africa’s mobile telecommunications success story. The World Bank.