The role of information technology (IT) and business in the socio-economic development of countries on the African continent; and in the world at large, cannot be overemphasised.
Information technology and business play a monumental role in the economic success of advanced countries such as the United States of America, China, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, among others. To this end, strategic adaptation and implementation of key information technology and business concepts in the emerging economies of Africa would yield positive dividends.
Information Technology in Africa
TechTarget (2016) describes information technology as the art of using infrastructure, networking, storage, computer, and other physical devices and processes for the purpose of creating, processing, storing, securing, and exchanging all forms of electronic data. The definition of IT, a terminology first used in the Harvard Review in 1958, helps to distinguish between general-purpose machines and purpose-built machines.
General-purpose machines: These refer to computing machines that are programmed for multiple tasks or functions. An example is a machine that is used to print, scan, make photocopies, and fax documents. Thus, a general-purpose machine performs more than one function.
Purpose-built machines: These are machines designed to perform specific or limited functions. An example is a machine designed for printing, scanning, making photocopies, or sending and receiving fax only. Generally, a purpose-built machine does not perform more than one function.
Countries in Africa need to review their development models to facilitate equitable distribution of their resources and wealth; and eventual growth of their economies. This would ensure some amount of economic emancipation. African countries require IT to enhance connectivity, create employment avenues, and improve access to basic services. Thus, information technology serves as a fulcrum to social development and transformation.
Massive investment in education infrastructure including classroom blocks, text books and other learning aids, with limited attention to information technology, would be an exercise in futility; it would be inimical to efforts aimed at addressing current and future development needs of Africa. Throughout the world, information technology is becoming a necessity and not a luxury. This affirms the reason why some heads of states across the world, including Ghana, have thought it necessary to encourage and enforce the teaching of IT in schools, even from the primary level to the tertiary level. This initiative is enforced through their Ministry and Department of Education. For instance, in Ghana, some private institutions have computer laboratories for their pupils.
In Ghana, the President John Mahama-led government has promised to introduce use of tabloids to pupils on a pilot basis in 2017 as part of efforts aimed at improving use of information technology. The pilot scheme would involve provision of tabloids to pupils in selected schools. The eventual outcome of the pilot study would inform policy makers on how to advance in the course of improving IT usage in Ghana. Of course, the success stories of Ghana’s predecessors in IT such as China and India could guide policy makers in Ghana. The efforts of the government and private sector in Ghana would ensure pupils are exposed to the art of information technology at a tender age. Countries like China, United States, India, Mauritius; and many European countries have advanced considerably in the use of IT; individuals in the aforementioned economies are introduced to IT at various levels and at an early stage in their education, and professional career.
Information technology challenges in Africa
Effective utilisation of information technology in businesses, academic institutions and social environments in Africa is affected by the following pertinent factors.
• Relatively small number of people with interest in technology usage.
• Limited number of people with the requisite skill and equipment to access and benefit from electronic information networks.
• Relatively high costs of technology software, information and equipment in many parts of Africa.
• Limited access to and availability of physical infrastructure in the telecommunications industry.
• Some health experts have bemoaned the negative implication for early introduction of a child to technology devices such as computers; it is believed constant exposure of the eyes to the computer screen would affect the victim’s vision in future.
• High cost of telecommunication operations.
• Monopolization of the telecommunications industry in some African countries.
• Strong and restrictive government regulations in some African economies.
• Limited networking and cooperation at the interregional level.
• Socio-economic factors affect equal access to information technology in Africa – epidemic and endemic diseases, ignorance, high malnutrition, protracted civil wars, and poor economic performance, among others.
• African governments’ focus on short-term projects rather than long-term infrastructural development, an essential tool for economic growth.
Role of Information Technology in Africa’s Development
There is a correlation between knowledge and information. A continent whose human capital exudes knowledge, information and innovation charts the cause of economic development and growth with relative ease. Gradually, the continent of Africa is on this noble cause of development. The pace of development in Africa is facilitated by improved information technology.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to operate or run an establishment without an information technology device. Professionals require education and constant training to be continually abreast of current technological trends in a modern economy.
Improved knowledge in information technology ensures effective utilisation of existing equipment; it helps organisations to resolve complex technological problems with relative ease.
In spite of the seeming challenges associated with the use of IT, it is widely believed that constant education on the use of protective tools such as computer screen shields and reading glasses could stem the negative tide. These challenges notwithstanding, the positive economic impact of IT on the socio-economic development and growth of the foregoing countries is unheralded.
Author: George Kwattia is the tax leader in PwC Ghana.
Article appeared in the Graphic Business Newspaper