East African ICT Envisioning

I am writing articles on the ICT sector and innovation atmosphere in East Africa – the Silicon Savannah. I’ve started from the biggest market, Kenya and its grand plans and visions. Next stops will be taking a look closer to home, Tanzania and at the newly opened Innovation Space and the Kinu Innovation lab. I am also keen to learn more about the technology boom happening in this area and in the neighboring countries of Rwanda and Uganda.

There seems to be a lot of talk and superlatives, and has been for a while. All the countries seems to be leading something. In 2007, UNCTAD had announced Rwanda as East Africa’s leading ICT country with its Vision 2020.

Just now, the country had been again named the most dynamic in this filed as it has used ICT to bridge the digital divide among its citizens. International Telecommunications Union (corporate communicator in me thinks: the name sounds like and the logo looks like something from an old James Bond movie) has recently published a report “Measuring the Information Society 2012”, where Rwanda was among the top most dynamic countries in the ICT sector. This means that from they had improved their status most (7 ranks) in the ICT Development Index (IDI) and were ranked 133 in the year 2012. Noteworthy is that it is the only least developed country that was among the most dynamic.

Moving on to Uganda, which, according to many was “ranked third on the  advanced technological and innovation capabilities in Africa, according to a study conducted by Martin Prosperity Institute of the U.S.”

This article goes even further and states that Uganda is a “leader in technology innovation on the continent, with the West African country coming second to South Africa and followed by Madagascar”.

None of these articles have a link to the actual report. Which I think might be this one? Anyhow, this is a report on the Global Creativity Index, on which, Uganda does not stand out as a leader.

But on the maps presented in this article by one of the writers of the report, Richard Florida, there are odd blue spots in the middle of the African map – Uganda! Both R&D Investment and Innovation are highlighted – is this where this news item was based on?

So a lot is being envisioned and developed but as you guessed, the starting point is pretty low. This report by the Broadband Commision for Digital Development takes a look at broadband (both fixed and mobile) usage in the world. Looking at percentages of individuals using the Internet the figures in the Silocon Savannah are: Kenya 28, Uganda 13, Tanzania 12 and Rwanda 7. The world average being 32, 5.

To conclude, I guess it is the same situation as it was (still is?) for women in business: you have to work extra hard to convince people that you are as good as the men in the same position. And still you hit the class ceiling at some point, or don’t get paid as much as your peer with the balls. I understand that the ICT industry in Eastern African countries is at a stage where it has been vital to create a buzz – a new mentality and way of doing things by first believing yourself capable of doing them. Now the Kenyan innovators have started to question if talking visions and creating a buzz is what makes this sector become a true source of income for people.

It will be interesting to see, if this reality check spreads to the other East African hotspots. I stay tuned for more visions, reports and leadership!

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