• More ICT4D Please!

    This is a response to a blog post published last week by Eric Hersman, also known as the @WhiteAfrican - The Subtle Condescension of “ICT4D”.

    I have been involved in a range of ICT4D issues in South Africa and beyond over the course of the 11 years I have worked for SANGONeT. Last week we hosted the 7th annual SANGONeT “ICT for Civil Society” conference in Johannesburg which focused on ICTs for rural development (ICT4RD) in Africa under the theme “Rural Realities, Real Solutions”. It is these experiences that compel me to comment on the mentioned article and respond to some of the issues Hersman raises.

    Hersman begins his article with the statement:

    “I have cognitive dissonance over the term “ICT4D“. The term “ICT4D” is confusing, hypocritical and has a whiff of condescension that makes me cringe. As I understand it, it’s what NGO’s do in places like Africa and Asia, but if the same things are done in poor communities in the US or Europe, it’s not called ICT4D, it’s called civil society innovation or a disruptive product.”

    It is not so much what (the ICT4D issue) Hersman raises in the article - although the relevance, success and impact of ICT4D initiatives in Africa should be assessed in a critical manner - but rather, how and from which position he raises these issues.

    Confronting and responding to Africa's development challenges, and technology’s role within this, is a complex and definitely not light hearted issue. Raising these issues for the sake of “testing the waters” or getting people worked up does not make sense to me. Especially if you as the author of the article is a perfect example of what ICT4D in Africa represents - coming up with great ideas which attract funding support and ultimately result in opportunities to contribute to meaningful and longterm development - or - just opportunities to “do things in the name of development” without fully understanding the issues to be addressed of the longterm commitment required to ensure meaningful impact.

    For someone who has been very prominent in the African ICT4D space, Eric Hersman’s role and contribution definitely fit into the former and not latter scenario.

    Development is also not simply a term “owned” by international agencies and other stakeholders to motivate and justify their presence in and support to Africa – it refers to improvement, empowerment, progress, innovation, etc. It is about moving to something better and more meaningful than what the current situation represents.

    From an “international development perspective”, it is no longer what you can do for Africa but rather what you can do with Africa in support of the needs and aspirations articulated by Africans. Any different perspective on the role of international development support is problematic, to say the least.

    Technology has an important role to play in the future development and prosperity of the continent. It contributes to economic growth and innovation on the one side, and supports efforts that address Africa’s historical development challenges on the other.

    These two issues represent different sides to the same coin – but often require very different approaches, and different roleplayers, to achieve the desirable objectives.

    Whatever you prefer to call technology is irrelevant - IT / ICT / ICT4D / ICT4RD / M4D/ Tech4Dev, etc. What really matters is the intent, the objectives and the motivation for using it.

    But, technology for technology’s stake is downright stupid.

    Too many technology for development projects and interventions fail because of the emphasis on the technology without understanding the development issue/s and/or what it would take to ensure the implementation of the technology will ultimately achieve success and impact. Too many technology competitions, awards and challenges place too much focus on the development of “more new tools” rather on what has been achieved.

    Hersman also asks the following question:

    “If an ICT4D-type project is done in a poor part of America, is it still considered ICT4D?”

    In my opinion the answer is – no! Why? Because if a First World country - with all the necessary technology and resources at its disposal - wastes its resources on meaningless external political objectives, while allowing a morally bankrupt financial system to cripple its economy, and as a result of all of this, neglects the needs of its own people, then you can’t compare it to the historical situation and development challenges which characterise many African countries.

    Africa has also wasted many opportunities over the past few decades to improve its socio-economic situation. There is no excuse for this and sadly, future generations will continue to suffer from this. However, this does not mean that the international community should turn their backs on Africa or use it as an excuse to disengage from the continent. It should also not be a reason to think about Africa as a great place to go test and showcase technology not relevant to the needs of the continent or to make a quick buck out of the misery of others. There is no place for these practices anywhere and they definitely have nothing to contribute to either the development or ICT4D objectives of the continent.

    We need home-grown technology innovation to stimulate and drive economic growth which will impact the African economy at large. This will result in competitive and sustainable businesses, profits, job creation, etc.

    We also need home-grown technology innovation to support efforts aimed at addressing social development challenges such as health, education, etc. facing the continent – so called ICT4D interventions and applications.

    But while technology is the common factor, the enabling environment, support structures and related issues in dealing with these two imperatives are very different.

    In recent years, a number of African countries, particularly Kenya, South Africa and others, have developed a reputation for technology innovation and success - both in terms of big mainstream businesses (e.g. MTN, etc.) as well as small, dynamic, technology start-ups. Often the latter initiatives evolve without any special government, investment or regulatory support.

    However, big IT business and small start-ups alone will not ensure that all Africans benefit from the potential contribution and impact of technology. Other interventions are also required.

    Governments, international development agencies, the private sector and other stakeholders continue to commit millions of dollars to technology for development – so called ICT4D – projects in Africa. Many international conferences (e.g. annual SANGONeT conference), reports, publications, panels of experts, etc. also continue to focus on ICT4D issues.

    Are all these efforts a total waste of money? Why would Eric Hersman be cynical about these efforts or what they are collectively referred to if his own claim to fame – Ushahidi, etc – is build, maintained, celebrated, supported and rolled-out all over the world with funding from various key international institutions.

    I call this hypocritical.

    Hersman should know better than to articulate these sentiments in a way that sounds condescending and patronising, especially while he presents himself as the "White African" committed to helping Africa through the power of technology innovation.

    It is true that the impact of many ICT4D initiatives is sometimes difficult to determine and their scale and scope often are too limited to have meaningful impact. However, questioning their overall intent is hugely problematic! What needs to be questioned is their focus, objectives and ultimately, impact. Africa’s development challenges remain significant, and will take many more generations to address. If technology is one of the vehicles to achieve this objective, then more should be done to nurture and expand its contribution and impact – by both local and international stakeholders.

    The fact that the majority of people on the African continent today have access to a mobile phone unfortunately does not represent development and empowerment. It is a remarkable achievement, but more needs to be done for the full potential of ICTs to impact the lives of all Africans.

    As highlighted in the draft National Development Plan released by South Africa’s National Planning Commission (NPC) last week, “Despite the uptake of mobile phones, growth in SA's ICT sector has not brought affordable, universal access to a full range of communications services.”

    That is the real challenge.

    Finally, there are now a billion people living on the African continent. Their future is closely intertwined. The success and failure of some will have a direct bearing on others. We all need to do more in ensuring a better life for all on this continent.

    Many Africans go the extra mile every day in responding to the challenges facing us. They don't do it to win awards or be famous, but just to make a difference in the lives of others.

    There is also more than one real “White African” serious about making a contribution to the future of this continent.

  • GSMA Establishes Office in Nairobi to Support Burgeoning African Telecoms Market

    Mobile Connections in Sub-Saharan Africa Increase 20 Per Cent to 500 Million in 2013 and Are Expected to Increase by an Additional 50 Per Cent by 2018

    The GSMA today announced that it has opened a permanent office in Nairobi, Kenya. The office will be based in the heart of Nairobi’s Innovation Hub (iHub) for the technology community and will enable the GSMA to work even more closely with its members and other industry stakeholders to extend the reach and socio-economic benefits of mobile throughout Africa.

    “It is an exciting time to launch our new office in Africa, as the region is an increasingly vibrant and critical market for the mobile industry, representing over 10 per cent of the global market,” said Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA. “The rapid pace of mobile adoption has delivered an explosion of innovation and huge economic benefits in the region, directly contributing US$ 32 billion to the Sub-Saharan African economy, or 4.4 per cent of GDP. With necessary spectrum allocations and transparent regulation, the mobile industry could also fuel the creation of 14.9 million new jobs in the region between 2015 and 2020.”

    According to the latest GSMA’s Wireless Intelligence data, total mobile connections in Sub-Saharan Africa passed the 500 million mark in Q1 2013, increasing by about 20 per cent year-on-year. Connections are expected to grow by a further 50 per cent, or 250 million connections, over the next five years which requires greater regulatory certainty to foster investment and release of additional harmonised spectrum for mobile.

    The region currently accounts for about two-thirds of connections in Africa but the amount of spectrum allocated to mobile services in Africa is among the lowest worldwide. Governments in Sub-Saharan Africa risk undermining their broadband and development goals unless more spectrum is made available. In particular, the release of the Digital Dividend spectrum – which has the ideal characteristics for delivering mobile broadband, particularly to rural populations – should be a priority.

    The region also has some of the highest levels of mobile internet usage globally. In Zimbabwe and Nigeria, mobile accounts for over half of all web traffic at 58.1 per cent and 57.9 per cent respectively, compared to a 10 per cent global average. 3G penetration levels are forecast to reach a quarter of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2017 (from six per cent in 2012) as the use of mobile-specific services develops.

    However, despite the high number of connections, rapid growth and mobile internet usage, mobile penetration among individuals remains relatively low. Fewer than 250 million people had subscribed to a mobile service in the region, putting unique subscriber penetration at 30 per cent, meaning that more than two-thirds of the population have yet to acquire their first mobile phone. Clearly, there is an important opportunity for the mobile industry to bring connectivity, access to information and services to the people in this region.

    The mobile industry contributes approximately 3.5 million full-time jobs in the region. This has also spurred a wave of technology and content innovation with more than 50 ‘innovation hubs’ created to develop local skills and content in the field of ICT services, including the Limbe Labs in Cameroon, the iHub in Kenya and Hive Colab in Uganda.

    Of particular note is the role of Kenya as the global leader in mobile money transfer services via M-PESA, a service launched by the country’s largest mobile operator Safaricom in 2007. What started as a simple way to extend banking services to the unbanked citizens of Kenya has now evolved into a mobile payment system based on accounts held by the operator, with transactions authorised and recorded in real time using secure SMS. Since its launch, M-PESA has grown to reach 15 million registered users and contributes 18 per cent of Safaricom’s total revenue.

    To support this huge increase in innovation, the mobile industry has invested around US$ 16.5 billion over the past five years (US$ 2.8 billion in 2011 alone) across the five key countries in the region, mainly directed towards the expansion of network capacity. At the same time, given the exponential growth, Sub-Saharan Africa faces a looming ‘capacity and coverage crunch’ in terms of available mobile spectrum and the GSMA is working with operators and governments to address this critical issue.

    GSMA research has found that by releasing the Digital Dividend and 2.6GHz spectrum by 2015, the governments of Sub-Saharan Africa could increase annual GDP by US$82 billion by 2025 and annual government tax revenues by US$18 billion and add up to 27 million jobs by 2025. In many Sub-Saharan African countries, mobile broadband is the only possible route to deliver the Internet to citizens and the current spectrum allocations across the region generally lag behind those of other countries.

    “A positive and supportive regulatory environment and sufficient spectrum allocation is critical to the further growth of mobile in Africa,” continued Ms. Bouverot. “I am confident that now that we have a physical presence in Africa, we will be able to work together with our members to put the conditions in place that will facilitate the expansion of mobile, bringing important connectivity and services to all in the region.”

    - ENDS –

    Notes to Editors:

    iHub is Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community, which is an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers. It is part open community workspace (co-working), part vector for investors and VCs and part incubator. More information can be found here:

    About the GSMA

    The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. Spanning more than 220 countries, the GSMA unites nearly 800 of the world’s mobile operators with more than 230 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset makers, software companies, equipment providers and Internet companies, as well as organisations in industry sectors such as financial services, healthcare, media, transport and utilities. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as the Mobile World Congress and Mobile Asia Expo. 

    Media Contacts:

    Charlie Meredith-Hardy
    +44 (0)7810 050 576

    GSMA Press Office

    For more about the GSMA, refer to or Mobile World Live, the online portal for the mobile communications industry, at

    To view other NGO press releases, refer to

    Date published: 
  • SANGONeT ICT4RD Conference 2011 - “Rural Realities, Real Solutions”

    Over three quarters of the world's poor live in rural areas. They often lack economic opportunities, have difficulty accessing basic services, have limited voice in governance and remain extremely vulnerable to shocks.

    How can development practice and approaches address these issues within the current financial constraints facing national budgets and donor funding? What are the new, innovative - and more cost effective - solutions and applications available to respond to rural development challenges in Africa and other parts of the developing world in a meaningful manner?

    The 7th Annual SANGONeT "ICTs for Civil Society" Conference, to be held from 1-3 November 2011 at the Wanderers Club in Illovo, Johannesburg, will focus on information communication technologies for rural development (ICT4RD) under the theme “Rural Realities, Real Solutions”.

    ICT4RD 2011 posits that part of the answer to the questions listed above will rely on new technologies - technologies like mobile phones - with coverage already reaching further than roads, electricity, sanitation and clean water.

    ICT4RD 2011 is the first African conference to apply these emerging technologies and practices to rural development, and will provide new thought leadership at a moment in time when the development sector is poised for innovation and change.

    ICT4RD 2011 will bring together 250-300 experts and practitioners - from government, NGOs, donor community, ICT sector, social entrepreneurs, investors and other stakeholder groups - from across Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond, to confront the realities of rural development and explore the innovative use of ICTs to catalyze the growth of ICT4RD solutions for scale.

    For more about ICT4RD 2011 and to register, refer to

    Follow updates about the event on Facebook, or Twitter, or by replying to

    SANGONeT Conference Team
    August 2011

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    There's Not an App for That
  • Telkom Criticised Over ‘Whistle-Blower’ Policy

    The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) has expressed concern about the effect that the suspension of two Communication Workers Union shop stewards linked to the release of the Telkom dossier, might have on employees thinking about exposing corruption.

    FXI executive director, Ayesha Kajee, points out that, "The public needs to be able to access information that is pertinent to the procedural conduct of a company such as Telkom."

    The dossier documents corruption, bribery, nepotism and fraudulent procurement by at least 16 senior Telkom staff, much of it related to Nigerian unit Multi-Links.

    To read the article titled, “Union accuses Telkom of violating whistle-blower policy,” click here.
    Business Day
  • Cell C Apologies for Poor Service

    Mobile operator, Cell C, has taken the unusual step of publicly responding to criticism by comedian, Trevor Noah, in a recorded comedy clip recently posted on Facebook and YouTube.

    In a full-page advertisement published in the Business Day newspaper, Cell CEO, Lars Reichelt, apologised to Noah and other Cell C customers who experience problems of coverage and lack of delivery.

    In the same vein, World Wide Worx managing director, Arthur Goldstuck, has described Reichelt's conduct as ‘revolutionary’. Goldstuck states that it is a conceptual breakthrough for a company to engage with a social media initiative. He says it is unusual in South Africa and internationally for the CEO of a telecommunications company to respond to a client by way of such an initiative.

    To read the article titled, “Cell C takes comedy criticism seriously,” click here.
    All Africa
  • ICASA Councillor’s Appointment is ‘Invalid’

    The future of Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) councillor, William Stucke, hangs in the balance after two legal opinions found that his appointment as a councillor of the telecoms and broadcasting regulator is invalid.

    Section 6 of the ICASA Act says a person who has financial interests in the communications sector may not be appointed as councillor.

    Stucke, who declared his interests in Internet service provider Qpop last year when he was interviewed for the job, was appointed by Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda following a recommendation by Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications.

    To read the article titled, “ICASA councillor’s appointment found to be invalid,” click here.
    Business Day
    Article link: 
  • ICASA Approves Connection Rate Cut

    The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has approved a cut in the rate charged by the three main cellphone operators to connect calls between networks.

    Vodacom, MTN and Cell C last month filed an agreement with ICASA proposing a cut in the peak interconnection rate from R1.25 to 89 cents on March 1.

    ICASA rejected the plan because it would have forced it to agree to a fixed gradual reduction over three years.

    To read the article titled, “ICASA approves connection rate cut,” click here.
    Independent Online
  • Africa Telecoms Lacks Clear Law Frameworks, Chireka

    Africa’s telecoms sector lacks clear and comprehensive legislative frameworks. This is according to Spiwe Chireka, an industry analyst at Frost and Sullivan.

    In a press statement, Chireka, points out that while the absence of comprehensive legislative frameworks placed multinationals in a vulnerable position, there is an element of ‘no pain, no gain’ in play.

    He was commenting on the issues faced by MTN Nigeria and Vodacom Congo. On the one hand, the Nigerian Communications Commission and MTN Nigeria Communications have been sued by telecoms company Globacom. On the hand, Vodacom is engaged in a spat with Congolese Wireless Networks, its partner in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over funding requirements.

    To read the article titled, “Africa telecoms lacks clear law frameworks,” click here.
    Article link: 
  • Telkom to Launch Mobile Phone Services

    Fixed-line phone group Telkom will begin offering mobile phone services from 2010 as it launches a new mobile business to offset falling profit from its fixed-line business.

    Telkom CEO Reuben September points out that, "We believe there's room for the fourth mobile operator in South Africa."

    September states that Telkom, the biggest in Africa, saw opportunities in the mobile data market as competitors MTN, Vodacom and Cell C dominated the near-saturated voice market.

    To read the article titled, “Telkom to offer mobile phone services from 2010,” click here.
  • Zambia Thetha ICT Discussion Forum

    The Zambia Thetha ICT Discussion Forum will be held on 28 October 2009 at the Golfview Hotel in Lusaka.

    The event forms part of a series of regional events that SANGONeT is hosting in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana.

    Organised and implemented in conjunction with JSM Business Consultants / COMDEV, the Zambia event will bring together various ICT stakeholders, including representatives from government, ICT industry, NGOs and the donor community, to discuss key “ICT for Development (ICT4D)” challenges and opportunities relevant to the future development of Zambia.

    The discussions will be informed by the “ICT4D: Challenges and Opportunities in Zambia" research report that John Munsaka of JSM Business Consultants / COMDEV prepared in support of the event.
    Event start date: 
    Event end date: 
    Event venue: 
    Golfview Hotel, Lusaka
    Event type: 
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