China’s Net model offers wealth for Africa

By Joyce Chimbi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/19 19:48:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Western telecommunication as well as Information and Communications Technology (ICT) giants no longer enjoy a monopoly in Africa since China's entry.

The Eastern nation continues to play a major role in both financing and supplying telecommunication and ICT equipment in Africa.

This entry has led to greater Internet connectivity not only in urban Africa, but in rural areas resulting in a win-win situation for Africa where Internet tariffs have significantly dropped.

More players in the African telecom and ICT market have also boosted Web-based learning among Africans, because China has so far donated a significant amount of high tech hardware across the continent.

Chinese equipment manufacturers Huawei Technologies and ZTE (Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment Corporations) are the main ICT powerhouses working in at least 50 African countries.

Against this backdrop, it is clear that in the same way that Africa has looked up to China as the best model to emulate in building state-of-the-art infrastructure, the continent is doing the same in strengthening its telecom and ICT sector.

This contribution has significantly boosted Internet activity and infrastructure across Africa, resulting in the continent's demonstration of development in an area that was previously relegated to private investors.

But there is a key lesson that Africa has yet to learn from China, and this is a leadership issue.

Policy needs to transform this growth into economic value which would place many African countries into the category of middle income earners.

Most leaders in Africa who are currently in economic partnerships with China see the growth of the ICT and telecom sector as an end in itself and not as a means to an end.

Little has been done to for instance create a paradigm shift where Africa ceases to perceive Internet access as an entertainment commodity but as a tool that can be used to put food on the table and to address a plethora of financial challenges bedeviling Africa's economy.

This means that there has been little or no conscious and concerted effort to harness ICT power into real economic value.

Those who are making money from the ICT industry tend to be individuals and companies who work within this sector and not individuals in far-removed activities such as agriculture or even real estate.

Inasmuch as Africa has benefitted significantly from ensuring that there has been an overhaul of physical infrastructure greatly financed and manned by China, Africa has not tapped into the strength that China continues to exhibit in ICT.

It is not enough to continue growing the number of Internet subscribers and boosting Internet penetration across Africa if this connectivity does little in the way of boosting the economy.

Leaders will be required to drive policies that are able to transform this growth into employment and growth of industries.

Most African countries are supported by an agrarian economy. ICT is a significant tool that can assist farmers to connect better with end users of their products.

A significant number of farmers are often unable to effectively and efficiently remain engaged with the market.

Agriculture in Africa continues to buckle under the pressure of extreme climate change as a result of low adoptive capacities.

Agricultural extension officers are not enough to meet the information gap which can be filled through ICT packages designed in a manner and language that speaks to the needs of these farmers.

Political decisions and policies can lead Africa to the same path of success that can be seen in China by establishing sound ICT policies that speak to the economic challenges that the continent continues to face.

The author is a Kenya-based journalist.

Posted in: Viewpoint

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