Information and Technology (ICT)in Africa

Information technology (also referred to as IT) is the application of computers and telecommunications equipment to store, retrieve, transmit and manipulate data,often in the context of a business or other enterprise.

The term is commonly used as a synonym for computers and computer networks, but it also encompasses other information distribution technologies such as television and telephones.

Several industries are associated with information technology, such as computer hardware,software,electronics,semiconductors,internet, telecom and several information technology services.

The back-story of information technology precedes the invention of the computer. The abacus, used by Asians, Egyptians, Romans, and the Greek can be termed a source of information technology. Calculators, the first mechanical one built by German polymath Wilhelm Schickard, or the slide rule, developed in 1622 by William Oughtred, also comes under the heading of information technology. Another example would be punch card machines, expanded upon by IBM in the early to mid 1900's, qualifies the term information technology.

The basic concept of Information Technology can be traced to the World War II alliance of the military and industry in the development of electronics, computers, and information theory. After the 1940s, the military remained the major source of research and development funding for the expansion of automation to replace manpower with machine power.

Africa was called a “a dark continent” and also the "lost continent" for centuries. The two implied backwardness in all areas of life.

Africa should react to trends in the IT industry, and play an active part in their determination towards IT.

The IT policy environment in Africa

Policy issues are central to most development efforts.

In most discussions on policies ,more emphasis is put on political power.

There is a policy vacuum in IT, with only inadequate coverage (if any) being provided from related areas such as telecommunications and the computer industry. The IT policy policy need to be addressed, in terms of formulation, dissemination, and implementation.

The need for government policy

Exemplar guidelines which must have the backing of government in order to be effective, and should cover:

  • acquisition of information technology,

  • use and application of the technology,

  • human resource development, and

  • regulation/deregulation and management.

The most pressing needs are for:

  • government policies and legislation to support IT development;

  • informatics policy and management infrastructure;

  • establishment of financing mechanisms, with adequate financial analysis, controls, and accounting;

  • a clear position on the level of control to be exercised locally and a desired level of dependency on foreign sources; and

  • coordination and integration of the needs of the public and private sectors' continuing awareness of the state of the art in IT.

Strategy 1: build IT into other development sectors

A strategy to ensure IT's growth is to build it into priority development sectors identified by African governments themselves: areas such as education, health, and the environment, which open up new vistas of application. We give examples below of areas where IT can be used not only to promote development of the sector but also to serve a hidden agenda of promoting use of the technology. This development should take a long-term view, reaching for the cutting edge of the technology, for which some institutional capacity already exists.

Health Area

Epidemiological data

Planning of public health interventions is based on epidemiological data, which is collected from health districts on a regular basis.

Computer-mediated communications using connectivity among health care facilities would provide a means of meeting this need.


IT can provide improved access to specialists for rural populations who are now concentrated in tertiary care and teaching institutions in urban centers, and thus partially address the equity issue without costly replication of infrastructure.

Adult health literacy

Adult health literacy is one of three major aspects in the Health-for-All package in the WHO (World Health Organization) African Region. There is therefore a need to reorient adult health literacy toward delivery in homes and the community. Connectivity offered by electronic networking and distance learning technology can be used to fulfill this need.

Medical records

Availability of computers and communications facilities in health care institutions would allow national standardized systems of medical recordkeeping, thus permitting the transfer of records from one facility to another as patients move around the country.

Management and maintenance of equipment

Remote consultation of databases and knowledge bases (using inference engines built into expert systems) would permit multiple simultaneous access to the limited know-how that currently exists on the management and maintenance of equipment. Broken-down equipment represents anywhere from 50% to 80% of the stock of health care equipment in African countries. The same scheme could be used for planned preventive maintenance (PPM) of the IT infrastructure itself.


the World Bank proposal of distance learning as an alternative to Africa's current educational delivery systems , IT offers such a mechanism. This must be accompanied by proper design that takes into account the local context.


The potential advantages of IT in the management of the environment is the joint efforts of  governments,INGOs, NGOs, CBOs,Individuals.


The set up interagency by United Nations task forces and committees to provide integrated support to country-level efforts to follow up recent global conferences such as Rio (environment), Cairo (population), and Copenhagen (social development). IT is glaringly absent in this lineup, either as the focus of a task force or as a specific issue to be addressed. Thus, IT in development and that IT will be woven into the activities of all the task forces.

Strategy 2: regional action and the bandwagon effect

Regional bodies have a big role to play.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) is well placed to play a lead role in bringing about such an outcome.

The ECA is charged with management of the task force concerned with harnessing information technology for development within the UN Special Initiative for Africa. Along with the World Bank, UNESCO, and other participants, it is expected to:

  • bring about policy reforms to enable full participation in the information age,

  • set up infrastructure for Internet access in a number of countries,

  • build human capacity for computer networking, and

  • improve African capacity to use information for development.

The use of IT will eliminate the filtering effect of the national and subregional centers.

Strategy 3: strong interagency cooperation

the successful development of IT in Africa. UNESCO's INFORMAFRICA project aims to introduce IT by using such strategies as training specialists (maintenance personnel and software producers) in and through IT and creating awareness among the public. UNESCO also claims to be the only international agency offering an information technology program, the Intergovernmental Informatics Program (IIP), which supposedly operates in all UNESCO member states. Unfortunately, the very existence of this program is not known to many IT enthusiasts in African countries.

IT Development Process

The opportunities for Africa to leapfrog decades of development, it is necessary to briefly review the development of IT in advanced countries at both the technological and policy levels.

Major questions about the public interest and (de)regulation of the IT industry have not received satisfactory answers. In essence, how is the spread of IT to be regulated in order to assure universal service, or at least universal accessibility?

Low technology .......

Africa's lack of infrastructure, at first glance, may be seen as a disadvantage.

The latest technology should be used in building new infrastructure. African countries will thus leapfrog several stages and decades in the IT development process. In doing so, they will learn from the experience of more advanced countries the ways and means of providing the greatest social benefits to a large fraction of the population while avoiding any unpleasant side effects.

IT has been a mixed blessing in different African countries, overall there have been many negative consequences. Scarce foreign currency has been spent on equipment which is not used. The dependency on multinational corporations and expatriate personnel has increased, and socio-cultural conflicts introduced. Moreover, what Africa has experienced for the most part so far is not IT transfer but transplantation, the dumping of boxes without the necessary knowhow (donor agencies have a reputation about this).

Certain prerequisites, such as reliable power supply to operate the computers, a well functioning telephone network to transmit data, foreign currency to import the technology, and computer literate personnel, are necessary for successful use of IT. Such infrastructural elements remain inadequate in many sub-Saharan countries. For instance, with the number of telephones per 1,000 people ranging between 12 and 50 depending on the country, Africa's telecommunications infrastructure is woefully inadequate. Many of the lines that do exist are out of order much of the time (e.g., sometimes large pieces of telephone cable are cut out by thieves and the metals resold).

Africa lacks computer skills in all areas, including systems analysis, programming, maintenance and consulting, and at all operational levels from basic use to management. Most countries lack the educational and training facilities needed to help people acquire the proper skills.

Unless computer literacy is among managers, poor strategic decisions will continue to be made. The application of computers in Africa have so far been mainly the result of isolated initiatives without preconceived strategies or plans.

IT can be of great value in various economic sectors if used for decision-making.

The cost of IT falling dramatically, and with systems becoming much easier to use and maintain, some of the prohibitive cost and infrastructural problems are being lessened. So an increasingly affordable and broadly applicable technology is available to play an essential part in the process of development. How should this be done?


BBOSA K.M. Billy(+256 772 346 787,+256 752 346 787) - ITCT Africa,Kampala.