Author's Picture Issue: EMEA 2008
Article no.: 2
Topic: Networks – a way forward for Africa
Author: Yvon Le Roux
Title: Vice President, Africa Levant, Emerging Markets
Organisation: Cisco Systems
PDF size: 330KB

About author

Yvon Le Roux is Vice President of Cisco’s Africa Levant and Emerging Markets (emerging Africa countries, North Africa and the Levant, and South Africa). Mr Le Roux is responsible for the market and strategies to help these countries improve the lives of their citizens through better healthcare, education, public safety, national security, and economic development through the use of technology. Previously, Mr Le Roux was Vice President, Public Sector for Cisco’s European Markets. In addition, he has launched a number of research projects exploring the effects of IT on the public sector, such as Net Impact: From Connectivity to Productivity, and most recently, Shared Services in Government: Building a Platform for Better Public Services at Lower Cost, by A.T. Kearney. Mr Le Roux joined Cisco as Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa South. Prior to joining Cisco, he held a number of senior positions at IT companies, spanning several territories. Mr Le Roux’s career began at Sperry Computer Systems; he then moved from there to Matra Informatique as President.

Article abstract

A strong ICT infrastructure is one of the most important pre-requisites of social and economic growth in today’s world. The Global Information Technology Report and its NRI, Networked Readiness Index, make it possible to map the progress of ICT usage on the African continent compared to the rest of the world. These maps of the relevant indices make it easier to see what is needed to prepare the road maps, the targeted programmes that will drive the continent into the future.

Full Article

As Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) increasingly converge around Internet networks, they have already fuelled growth and increased productivity in many countries. Isn’t it time they did the same for Africa? The spread of mobile telephony across Africa provides a foretaste of the potential. Hundreds of millions of Africans today have access to mobile phones, exceeding even the most optimistic estimates and improving the lives of people across the continent. Nevertheless, the potential of network connectivity and the Internet for improving people’s lives is much greater. The considerable benefits fall in two basic categories: • Economic – productivity gains (including through reduced transaction costs and fast, reliable information flows) and innovation enabling (through online collaboration tools, wikis, etc.); and • Social – extensive access to education and information resources; provision of government and health services on-line; expanded citizen participation; and entertainment. The Global Information Technology Report (GITR) takes stock of where countries and regions stand in the race to harness the potential of ICT in general and IP networks in particular. We sponsor the GITR, which is produced by the WEF and INSEAD. Its widely quoted ‘league table’ of countries is based on its Networked Readiness Index (NRI). The 2007-2008 GITR covers 28 African countries with wide-ranging rankings: from Tunisia, South Africa, Mauritius and Egypt in the top half of the NRI table to Zimbabwe, Burundi and Chad among the lowest ranked of all 127 ranked countries. The full rankings are at http://www.weforum.org/pdf/gitr/2008/Rankings.pdf. African countries have nearly 15 per cent of the world’s population and nine per cent of the mobile phone users but less than five per cent of Internet users, less than three per cent of the world’s PCs and a negligible proportion of broadband subscribers. While the lagging connectivity in Africa reflects, in part, income levels of countries in the region, experience elsewhere shows that connectivity is not solely determined by income levels. Policies and regulations that promote technology adoption, private investment and competition can play a major role as well, and position countries to take advantage of the leapfrog opportunity that networks bring – including future employment for the relatively young African populations. Mapping ICT development A useful perspective can be obtained by mapping the ICT environment along two dimensions: • ICT infrastructure, which includes permanent assets such as hardware and telecommunications infrastructure, as well as national productive capabilities including qualified labour; and • ICT ecosystem, which comprises such elements as the quality of regulations in a country, the ease of doing business, the level of competition and the degree of innovative capacity. Using the NRI (Networked Readiness Index), component indicators ratings can be derived for each country that represent a position along each of the two dimensions. As countries are ‘mapped’ against these two axes (the dots in the charts below represent actual positions for countries across the world), it becomes clear what the implications of positioning in the ICT map are. Countries with good/best practice infrastructure and ecosystems have much higher broadband connectivity at drastically lower cost to the user while, conversely, countries with poor infrastructure and ecosystems face high connectivity costs and experience low rates of broadband use. The differences are powerfully illustrated by NRI scores – classifying countries in a 4×4 matrix that summarizes the range of possible positions on the ICT map. Average NRI of countries in each category Although the compressed scale (one to seven and, in practice, ranging from about three to six) can lead to downplaying them, the differences are very significant: two countries just one point apart in their NRI have very different network readiness levels and positioning. The importance of balancing progress on the infrastructure and ecosystem fronts is also very clear: NRI scores are highest along the diagonal in the matrix – The next map shows the placement of African countries – covering a range of situations – with Tunisia near the middle (reflecting moderate ecosystem and infrastructure) and Cameroon, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe facing major challenges on both fronts). While the NRI covers 28 of the 55 African countries and data availability only permits ‘mapping’ 17 countries, these provide a reasonably representative picture of the continent’s situation and its network readiness challenge. Comparing Africa to the rest of the world A quick insight into the region’s position and its challenges can be obtained by looking at summary ICT development categories. As the chart below illustrates, countries are located in one of three blocks of categories depending on whether they have at least one ‘poor’ rating in the two dimensions; at least one moderate rating; and only good or best practice ratings. Three measures (Internet use, Broadband penetration and Broadband costs) can be used to provide a very tangible indication of the differences across categories and are also a good basis for summarizing the region’s situation. Countries in Africa have low Internet usage, very low broadband penetration and high connectivity costs. The great differences in broadband penetration and broadband costs are most significant – given the critical role that broadband plays in attaining the benefits of network connectivity. This situation calls for urgent attention to develop a clear vision and the determination to move to a higher level of ICT adoption and competitiveness. The path to progress will involve a balance between implementing extensive ICT infrastructure investments and improving ecosystems. Regarding the latter, it is worth keeping in mind that competition among service providers and diversity in technology platforms for connectivity, as research has shown conclusively, are very significant factors explaining broadband penetration and cost. Many African countries have characteristics that could provide a good foundation for rapid progress towards network readiness and reduce the gap with more advanced countries. The snapshot picture we have painted focuses on the static aspects of the gaps – as depicted here with respect to Internet and PC usage Are there indications from a dynamic perspective that would point to the gaps being reduced rapidly? As the charts below indicate, the answer seems to be promising for Internet usage – an important first step for network readiness – but much less so with respect to PCs (a key ingredient in the evolution from Internet usage to realizing the potential of networks and high-speed connections for business and personal use). In spite of steep price declines in recent years, access to PCs by the population in Africa is growing so slowly that at the current pace it would take decades to match that of advanced countries. (Note: The line charts reflect percentage increase. The Y-axis labels indicate that the data is indexed to the 2001 levels – growth lines reflect the percentage increase over the 2001 level.) High-speed connectivity, broadband, has become a critical factor affecting the ability of countries to grow and remain competitive or gain competitiveness. It is also an essential element in government contributions to the welfare, including political empowerment, of their citizens. Can Africa’s connectivity gap be reduced rapidly? The explosive expansion of mobile phone use throughout Africa makes bridging this gap seem less out of reach than it would otherwise appear. Nevertheless, only countries undertaking decisive action will have a chance to made headway in bridging the gap that separates most African countries from the benefits that IP networks bring. The good news is that – unlike the high costs that have created difficult hurdles for other types of infrastructure in Africa – the solution to the connectivity gap is much more affordable. The needs will vary by country but generally, the solution will include: • Policy reforms to ensure that IT policies and regulations are in tune with the opportunities offered by networks and IP convergence; • A core of basic network infrastructure around which to build extensive networks and access to existing infrastructure where fibre cables can be accommodated; • Competitive markets that encourage innovation in the provision of services and development of applications; • Public-private partnerships to address specific bottlenecks (which could range from access to PCs and/or new generation Internet-ready devices to national and regional Internet exchange points); and • Development of IT skills. Some of these measures are virtually costless while others, such as core network infrastructure and IT skills, offer very high economic and social returns on investment. We are actively involved in a number of these measures, for instance, through our Networking Academy Program. Cisco Networking Academy recently marked its ten-year anniversary providing information technology skills to students globally to improve their career and economic opportunities. Networking Academies operate in high schools, colleges, universities, technical and military schools and community-based organizations. With nearly 40,000 African graduates some of the critical IT skills and support for Internet exchange points are being provided in a number of African countries. It is clear that there has been progress in digital awareness in Africa, and growing segments of the population are getting a taste of Internet connectivity. However, a significant divide remains between many countries in terms of obtaining the benefits offered by ICT. Slow progress in extending broadband access is a challenge in many parts of the region; it threatens to deny them the economic and social promise of IP networks. Turning this into an opportunity deserves urgent attention by governments and opinion leaders in the region as well as donors and other external partners.