The World Bank has just drawn up in a recent report the state of play of ICTs and their degree of accessibility in certain countries of the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa. Constant a low penetration rate in this region of the continent, the report proposes avenues for reform to enhance the use of these new technologies, in order to make the most of them to support growth. A real challenge for these countries which are facing a multitude of socio-economic challenges.
While the so-called information and communication technology (ICT) revolution is already in its third phase, some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and particularly in the Sahel, still remain on the sidelines of the dynamic that has profoundly transformed development. the global context of recent years. This is the observation made by the World Bank in a report, published at the beginning of the month, on access to ICTs in five countries of sub-Saharan Africa, including 3 in the Sahel (Mali, Niger, Chad) in addition to the Central African Republic. and Guinea.
In these countries, only 64% of people have an active mobile connection, compared to 71% for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, and 95% globally. Suffice to say that the rate of access to new technologies remains insufficient, even if according to the report, these countries have experienced in recent years a certain global growth of ICT through in particular “the rapid expansion of mobile telephony services and by the fact that they are cheap ”.
However, according to the authors of the report, the digital revolution should not be limited to this situation, but consists in ensuring that ICTs allow their users to have access to income-generating activities, especially in these low-income countries. income and which are experiencing fairly galloping demographic growth.
Reforms and growth opportunities
The report, which looks at the reforms needed to promote the digital revolution in sub-Saharan Africa, analyzed, with official data, the evolution of the ICT sector in these countries. Thus, it emerges that all the countries concerned by the study undertook, between 2011 and 2015, the reform of their legal and regulatory system, in order to make it compatible with broadband Internet, the offer of virtual mobile operators. and service providers, as well as with best regulatory practices.
The report also notes that these countries have also adopted “second generation” laws that cover data protection, e-commerce and cybersecurity. Despite these reforms, the situation remains rather mixed, since for various reasons specific to each market and to the dynamics of the public or private actors involved in it, these countries are far from really taking advantage of the opportunities offered by this sector by as a lever for growth. According to the observation relayed by the World Bank, “if access to mobile telephony is not universal, it is mainly for a question of cost”.
After having reviewed the situation at the level of each country and which hides many disparities in terms of coverage, but also of inter-network quality, the World Bank recommends that the authorities of the countries concerned “hasten to complete the first wave of reforms initiated in the early 2010s ”. These reforms are aimed precisely at making access to mobile phone services (voice and SMS) affordable, a prerequisite for the expansion of “mobile money” and high-speed Internet.
In short, for these countries, it will be a question of ensuring that the conditions of competition are improved before the high-speed Internet markets take off, and of using the resources of the universal service funds to reach those who are not yet served. and establish a transparent and efficient tax system that will generate a large part of the revenues that the public authorities can use in the service of measures favorable to growth.
At the moment some countries like Rwanda are taking full advantage of the digital revolution that they have implemented through reforms and investments in the digital industry sector, it is a real challenge that is needed for these countries of the sub-Saharan region and the Sahel.