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Which African Country Leads in ICT Expenditures? The Answer will Surprise You!

By Wayan Vota on September 22, 2010

The World Bank’s Open Data initiative is intended to provide unfettered access to the World Bank’s data catalog, including databases, pre-formatted tables and reports. Our friends at Online Africa have taken this data and made an interesting table:

ICT Expenditure as a Percent of GDP in African Countries

ICT Expenditure as a Percent of GDP in African Countries

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I was quite surprised by Senegal taking the #2 spot, just behind Morocco, for four years in a row – 2005-2008. At an average of 10% of GDP, Senegal’s ICT investments easily beats South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, and the world average. Yet, we don’t hear much about Senegal’s ICT investments.

Might that be due to a language barrier – all their news is in French – or is this another case where the World Bank data doesn’t match the expected reality?

Regardless, Senegal’s ICT investments indicate there is opportunity in Francophone Africa.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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5 Comments to “Which African Country Leads in ICT Expenditures? The Answer will Surprise You!”

  1. Doug Woods says:

    I wonder if Morocco’s expenditure is in part driven by its proximity to the EU, with a need to stem migration from there to the EU and the possible opportunities to provide ICT services that undercut services provided within the EU itself?
    What I find a surprise is that Tunisia is not making a similar level of commitment; it is in a very similar position to Morocco.
    From my own point of interest, I wonder how much of the ICT expenditure is committed to education within each country?

  2. Alex Twinomugisha says:

    Wayan,
    I am not too surprised by Senegal’s prominent position in this rankings on ICT expenditure as a percentage of GDP. I can think of a few reasons why Senegal would do well.

    1. Strong political interest: While President Kagame of Rwanda is seen as the “African ICT leader”, President Wade of Senegal has long spoken out against the digital divide when it was a fashionable topic back in the early to mid 2000s. He was quite vocal during the WSIS and one of the backers of the digital solidarity fund. So one can argue that there has and still is strong political interest in ICTs in Senegal which in turn means that considerable investments in ICTs are likely to be made and/or efforts to grow the ICT sector pursued.

    2. In fact, the strong political interest in ICTs led the government to invest in ICTs in the social sectors and in e-government. There are many government led initiatives say on elearning, e-content development etc in Senegal. The government is also championing the BPO industry, with Senegal seen as a good base for call centers to serve the francophone world (I guess China and India miss out due to language!). Actually, I think Senegal was probably one of the earliest countries in SSA to have call centers established back in the early 2000s. Investments in this sector must have grown significantly by now helped on by cheap and widely available broadband.

    3. Cheap broadband: the incumbent telco operator Sonatel, now part owned by France Telecom is one of those rare state-owned telcos that recognized the prevailing winds and focused on growth and service. For example, in the mid 2000s, you could get 1 mbps of connectivity in Dakar for a couple hundred dollars a month while many of the other countries on SAT3 (including South Africa) were charging an arm and a leg. I believe that Dakar was one of the first African cities to have a large scale wifi presence. Any hotel small or big offered free (wifi) internet access when this was unheard of in many African capitals. Sonatel aggressively promoted $20-50 broadband services for homes and small businesses. And we are talking 2004 here. I speculate that this relatively (for Africa) cheap connectivity must have had positive effect on the ICT industry. Sonatel has also positioned itself as a major telecom player in the region as well with fiber links to its landlocked neighbors providing access to submarine cables and running a mobile subsidiaries in places like Mali.

    4. Lastly, a relatively politically stable Senegal probably attracts significant foreign direct investment and has quietly become the business capital of francophone West Africa after the political fiasco in Abidjan.

    I think Senegal’s ICT credentials don’t feature prominently in the ICT and Africa discourse because of language. But Senegal is definitely worthy a close look in the ICT space.

  3. Senam Beheton says:

    Alex,
    I was going to respond to the initial post with exactly the same points you made. Your analysis of the situation is spot on… especially points 3 and 4. Dakar has been a dynamic place for ICT-related businesses and ICT4D for the past 10 years. The language barrier is a clear factor but it is incumbent upon the larger English-speaking ICT4D community to reach out to Francophone sub-Saharan Africa, to understand what is done there, to develop/enable fora such as this one in French and to create bridges. Thank you Alex for sharing your real expertise on ICT in Africa. You never disappoint.

  4. Geanette says:

    The reason we don’t hear about Senegal’s ICT investments is because your headline/title is misleading. It’s silly to say that Senegal spends more than South Africa in ICT investments. May be you should have researched on Senegal’s GDP before writing this article. 11% of a Senegal’s GDP can’t be compared to 10.1% of RSA’s GDP. These are not nominal values.
    This kind of sensationalism blogging is irresponsible.

  5. Wayan Vota says:

    Please note the title of the chart, “ICT Expenditure as a Percent of GDP in African Countries”, which is what makes Senegal’s commitment even more impressive. While in absolute terms, RSA’s investment may be great, Senegal is putting a greater share of a smaller economy towards ICT.