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Understanding the Digital Divide in Sub Saharan Africa Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Pedus, Australia Nov 18, 2007
Media , Technology , Globalization , Digital Divide   Opinions
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Credit for the popularisation of the phrase 'Digital Divide' could be duly given to Larry Irving, a former United States Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Technology adviser to the Clinton administration, who used the phrase in a series of reports in the mid 1990’s. Since then, the phrase has become a catchy household name in social and scientific/technology as well as political circles around the world. But what is digital divide, and how could this phenomenon positively affect Sub Saharan African nations? What are some of the underlying factors militating against emancipation from digital divide and thus bridging the gap in Sub-Saharan Africa? These are important issues that would be explored in the course of this writing. Because of the difficulty in collation of data across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), data is often collated for one or two countries and reasonably extrapolated to other SSA countries.

Digital divide essentially looks at the comparative gap between access to and utilisation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) among human populations in developing and developed countries (international digital divide) and in fact within developing countries themselves (intra-national digital divide). Current literature argues that access to ICT is a panacea for development, though arguably true, but has often been short-sighted in considering the underlying elementary issues that have militated against closing the digital gap particularly in SSA nations where fundamental socio-economic and political problems have continued to hamper against closing the digital gap. Most people in SSA are faced with the greater challenges of perennial poverty, socio-political instability, illiteracy and disease.

There is arguably a strong correlation between access to and use of information and national and international development. Some of the areas of development that closure of digital divide could help improve are the areas of international commerce, education, including e-education; health, including e-health; national and international criminal justice and strengthening of democratic institutions. In spite of these potential benefits, when SSA is compared to other parts of the world in terms of access to and use of ICT, one would conclude that SSA is still in its infancy though catching up progressively in the face of its social-political and economic realities. Delving further into the African region, United Nation’s Report on ICT concludes that of the estimated 816 million people in Africa in 2001, approximately 1 in 4 have radio (205 million); 1 in 13 have TV (62 million); 1 in 13 have mobile phone (24million); 1 in 40 have a fixed line (20 million); 1 in 130 have a PC (5.9 million); 1 in 160 use the Internet (5million) and 1 in 400 have pay –TV (2 million). These are only estimates and the data has long been questioned by experts who argue that collation of such extensive data is very difficult owing to statistical complexities in information gathering around Africa.

It is imperative, therefore, to look at some of the underlying problems militating against access to and use of ICT in SSA. These problems are multi-factorial but could include cost often brought about by poverty, technology illiteracy or lack of foreign language skills; legacy of traditional beliefs; lack of governmental support; generational gap and general disinterest in change. Amongst all, poverty, lack of governmental support and education is of greatest concern here. Poverty is a multifactorial phenomenon that undoubtedly manifests in denigration of humanity through lack of access to basic humanistic necessities, leading to despair and stunted socio-political and economic development. The ravages of poverty in SSA has hindered sustainable democracy and democratic reforms; safety and security; propelled judicial irregularities and inequities in the distribution of resources. Generally, poverty is more pervasive in rural areas than city centres prompting mass migration to the cities where access to and use of ICT is generally enhanced by better infrastructure and more educated population.
A recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report observed that it is not an exaggeration to claim that an unrepresentative political system or lack of democracy is at the root of poverty in Nigeria. Nigeria’s poverty has been inextricably linked to mismanagement of its macro-economic policy, and to inadequate funding, poor quality infrastructural facilities, neglect of social service provision to the population, and poor management leading to increasing corruption at all levels of both in governmental and non-governmental enterprises. ICT access and use in SSA is further complicated by illiteracy, including illiteracy in the use of modern technology that has become a precursor to social divide. In Nigeria as in many SSA nations, illiteracy remains an obstacle to access and use of ICT. It is estimated that numeracy rate in Nigeria is at 57% and even worse in other SSA nations. However, there is optimism in the renewed effort of new crop of leaders who have instituted educational revolution policies targeted at literacy and numeracy. Nigeria, with its Universal Basic Education policy is expected to have more educated population in the next decade than it has ever had in its 47 years of independence.

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I was born in Nigeria and was educated in Nigeria, USA and Australia. I am the founder and president of Christina-Mae Recruitment Consortium Australia and the author of the book "When Things Go Wrong: Concepts of Change". I am also the co-founder of Child Aid Survival and Development International (CASDI). As a freelance journalist, I have contributed to a number of professional journals and newspapers, as well as worked in a number of e-journalism projects. I have traveled extensively and currently call Australia and the USA home with extensive involvement in African Human Rights issues.
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