The Top 5 Countries for ICT4D in Africa are Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and…?

Published on: Mar 26 2012 by Wayan Vota

At a recent Technology Salon, we were discussing the countries that have the best environment for ICT innovation that will accelerate economic and social development. Quickly we listed the following four countries:

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  1. Kenya has the potent mix of multiple fiber optic cables connecting to aggressive ISPs and mobile operators operating in a relatively open and transparent regulatory environment with strong government support for telecommunications competition.
  2. Ghana has a similar enabling environment, if a somewhat smaller population & therefore market size.
  3. Nigeria is the largest market but doesn’t quite have the same level of openness and transparency, though it is working hard to compete with Ghana and Kenya.
  4. Tanzania is aspiring to join this elite group with many of the right steps and investments that should pay off soon.

A few countries were mentioned and then quickly discarded, among them Angola. This surprised me, as I thought it a contender. Yet others pointed out that besides the oil economy, not much else is happening there. Then two countries emerged specifically because they didn’t have an ICT ecosystem:

  1. South Sudan is the newest country in Africa and by all accounts, it’s a green field – there isn’t any ICT there so it’s a fully open market.
  2. Liberia is another green field, with even better political and national security.

Where else?

Let us not stop there. If you were to make a list of the top 5 countries for ICT4D in Africa, which would be on your list? Which would not? And why?

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Wayan Vota is a Senior Mobile Advisor at FHI 360 and is a regular contributor to ICTworks. He co-founded ICTworks, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, Technology Salon, Educational Technology Debate, OLPC News, Kurante, and a few other things.
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18 Comments to “The Top 5 Countries for ICT4D in Africa are Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and…?”

  1. Joris Komen says:

    Hi Wayan

    I would suggest that such countries are those which *DO NOT* have sweeping, government-wide “open-license” agreements with Microsoft or other proprietary giants, and have *effectively* implemented policy for platform neutrality in all government ICT acquisition processes. In this context, you need to seriously reconsider your present list…and maybe that for most other developing countries in the world today.

  2. Wayan Vota says:

    So these governments have agreements with Microsoft. What does it matter? I don’t see Kenya being held back by it, nor Ghana. Please nominate an African country that qualifies according to your criteria – let’s see if its as ICT innovative as these.

  3. Wayan Vota says:

    Via a tweet, Peter Wanyonyi asks “No South Africa? Really?” Actually, South Africa wasn’t even mentioned. I think there are two reasons why:

    1. They don’t need outside help. South Africa has enough wealth and ICT skills to do much of its own innovation without outside assistance. In fact, you could argue that they really should be a net exporter of ICT4D skills.

    2. They’re too inward focused. From all my discussions with South Africa organizations, they are pretty centered on the “unique” South Africa experience and rarely focus on opportunities outside their own borders. Fair enough, they have big problems they are no-where near solving as it is.

  4. I am putting Rwanda in he top 5, they’re coming from far away, but have made great advances recently, with modern telecom infrastructure, technology investments, tech entrepreneurship programs. A new tech startup / coworking space is also opening next month. The speed on how they are announcing new initiatives is astounding.

    Ethiopia is also growing quickly. The people are smart and knowledgeable, with consistent growth in the past years. Technology will be big there

  5. Liz Allcock says:

    These polls all too often come up with the usual suspects. Kenya, Tanzania, maybe Rwanda….all those who, if you google them, come up with the most ICT4D projects. What about those countries with very few such initiatives, but who are really plugging away at making them happen. My vote goes to Malawi – the work of places like the National Library Service, who are real trailblazers in this area. No, you won’t find them on any google list, but they are making amazing headway in a country lacking in a lot of the advantages countries in Eastern Africa benefit from.

  6. Luke Musongong says:

    I will for no second reject any of your classifications. Nevertheless, I want to believe that Cameroon cannot be left out of the list of top ten for the following reasons.
    - Firstly, the primary curriculum had ICT since 2009 same for the Secondary education where ICT will be written for the third year as a subject at GCE in 2012.
    - Secondly, the ICT for Africa Conference which just held in Kampala, Uganda was in its Fourth year, the first two held in Cameroon and Nigeria held that for 2011. Thus Cameroon was pioneer in this regard.
    - Thirdly, Cameroon with a population of about 20 million inhabitants has over 10 millions with mobile phones, though with just three providers (CAMTEL, MTN and ORANGE).
    - Fourthly, the Cameroon government has sponsored the putting in place of optical fiber in about eight of the ten regions already, a contract done by HWAUAI company.
    The only unfortunate aspect is that the Cameroon government has not created a Ministry of ICT like is the case with Uganda and other East African countries that has fostered the spread of ICTs there.
    However, I am convinced that in the next five years, Cameroon will be among the top five African countries in the ICT domain.

  7. Paul Orenge says:

    Hi All?

    Where was this Technology Salon? in my opinion there are other countries in Africa which should be considered in the Top 5. Alot has been said about Ruanda – despite its population. What about Egypt, South Africa and Even Zambia?

  8. D.N. Gachuche says:

    Why is South Africa missing? Tunisia, Egypt, etc Which Africa are we talking about?

  9. Joris Komen says:

    ICT4D, certainly in an African developing country context, is supposed to *embrace* the lives of the most disenfranchised people – inevitably those who lack even the most basic of amenities, let alone ICTs! If you are linking innovation to an economy of scale, then sure, I agree that countries like Rwanda and Mauritius, even Egypt and South Africa, have clearly shown good their intent to develop even the most rural and underdeveloped parts of their countries. HOWEVER, when I continue to see vast majorities of populations in the parallel universe of ICT4E suffer the absence of electricity and *meaningful* 4E (!) communication infrastructure at 40 – 70% of schools nation-wide, then I cannot see how “innovation” relates to ICT development in such countries. What I see is proprietary giants locking middle-management, decision-making, government officials into systems which have been determined to be too commercially costly to deploy at the scales we would like them to – to meet even fundamental MDGs in ‘good time’.

    Wherever there’s been an innovative effort to embrace effective and affordable long-term total cost of ownership models in primary and secondary education sectors using Free/Libre and Open Source software (FLOSS) and Open Educational Resource solutions, they have been marginalised by greed. A few countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Brazil and (parts of) Spain can be seen as exceptions to this rule, but I can’t think of a single country in Africa which has managed to overcome mind-numbing and largely outdated cost calculations leveraged by commercial ICT salesmen to “put computers in the classroom”. Hence the delays in development, which no amount of innovation will alter until such countries adopt platform neutral ICT acquisition policy, open minds to shifting ICT form factor, and then some – SITA, South Africa’s government ICT buying agency has such (even FLOSS) policy to guide their purchasing decisions, but we still wait for implementation of this policy, several years after promulgation!

    I’m afraid that until we see altered states of reality – more money spent on school electrification than on a President’s new jet, state house, hero’s monument or church – ICT4D in Africa will still be around when my grandchildren’s children graduate from university… even though I hope to see some closure to the ICT4D we’ve been forced to practice (with short-term local volunteerism = 2 decades:-)) in my lifetime.

  10. tmarente says:

    Hi Wayan,

    A couple thoughts. Are we talking about ICT4D or ICT….as I think we all see a difference, with ICT4D a bit more enabling than strictly ICT. So for ICT, I would put Rwanda at number 5, with their emphasis and push towards building out an ICT infrastructure, physical, human, training, etc….Setting the stage to bring new technologies to the country and open the door to a knowledge based economy.

    While Uganda has also built and is still building a national fiber backbone, it seems they are a bit behind in the thought leadership, that has driven Rwanda to where they are today. I guess you might say they’re more tactical, as opposed to strategic in their thinking/actions. As far as ICT4D, I might put Uganda at number 5, as it seems to be a fertile ground in the pilot and deployment of ICT4D initiatives. One such example to point to is the explosion of mHealth projects that have lead to the recent moratorium. For other ICT4D projects as an example, in Gulu, the BOSCO-Uganda ICT4D effort has provided a successful, appropriate, sustainable, locally managed solution to supply ICT’s to rural communities.

    thanks,
    Tom

  11. Ben Addom says:

    I think the background given above for Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania is more about ICT or ICTD not ICT4D. It is more about the infrastructure than applications and access to the applications by the users.

    As a result, the criteria used (at least what is described above) is more of 5 Top ICT Countries in Africa but not 5 Top ICT4D Countries in Africa.

    Ben

  12. Claude MIGISHA says:

    Rwanda is among first countries in Africa with a strong political will behind ICT4D initiatives,
    With a clear planning. Infrastructures, fastest internet in the region, ISPs ans TELECOM Companies that go with a huge increase of mobile telephones users. If one really want to witness how ICT can change lives of people, economically and socially visit Rwanda.

  13. Claude MIGISHA says:

    Rwanda is among first countries in Africa with a strong political will behind ICT4D initiatives,
    With a clear planning. Infrastructures, fastest internet in the region, ISPs ans TELECOM Companies that go with a huge increase of mobile telephones users. If one really want to witness how ICT can change lives of people, economically and socially visit Rwanda.

  14. Sarah says:

    I am just wondering what criteria was used to pick the countries mentioned.

  15. Susan Lister says:

    With Kigali’s new software innovation space, the kLab, opening its doors to the tech community in the next few months, and the recent winner of ‘Inspire Africa’ being announced as Clarisse Bilshan Iribagiza, a local Rwandan, and one of many aspiring tech start up business entrepreneurs, Rwanda is a fierce competitor as one of the top 5 ICT hotspots. Sometimes jokingly referred to as the ‘Switzerland of Africa’ among locals and expats in the capital city, The Economist recently quoted Rwanda’s ambition and potential for becoming ‘the Singapore of central Africa’, boasting the country’s rule of law, ease of doing business, the average income more than doubling since 1994, and major investment with huge companies like Visa taking place in Rwanda’s developing markets.

  16. Garland says:

    Pick one…just one…focus all your resources on that one…you will succeed quickly and it will be noticed by all the other African countries that want to mover forward into the 21st Centry and they will open their doors to you…all of them have been envious of South Africa for decades …leverage their desire to be the tech leader in Africa…

  17. grace says:

    I support Rwanda to be a strong contender for ICT4D with initiatives like ICT bus which pushes ICT to the rural population (http://www.elearning-africa.com/eLA_Newsportal/ict-buses-delivering-the-internet-to-rural-rwanda/), ICT telecenters now renamed business delivery centers, E-soko targeting farmers (http://www.esoko.gov.rw/esoko/Dashboard/Login.aspx?DashboardId=4&dash=true&Login=true) , the One laptop per child program (on facebook has good resource) All 30 districts have an online presence (http://www.minaloc.gov.rw/index.php?id=492) the latter being the first step to bringing services to citizens.. Other planned efforts are establishing an ICT Park.. The recent Carnegie Mellon University will be at the heart of the ICT Park to create an innovation eco system with ICT private sector…
    Thx

  18. Nestory Maro says:

    Perhaps we should first list down criteria used to rank these top 5 countries. Thats where we can all agree on this ranking…

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