Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have some of the lowest proportions of internet users, most problematic connectivity issues and the most underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructures in the world. With a few exceptions, internet penetration is very low in many countries in West Africa (including Mauritania: 17.1%, Niger: 2.1%, Nigeria: 46.1%, Senegal: 23.4%, Sierra Leone: 2.4%), East Africa (including Ethiopia: 4.2%, Mozambique: 6.4%, Somalia: 1.7%), Central Africa (including Central African Republic: 4.5%, Cameroon: 18%, Gabon: 10.3%) and Southern Africa (including South Africa: 52%, Botswana: 21.4%, Zimbabwe: 21%) (2016).
While most internet research in the entire region covers East, West and Southern Africa, there is a very limited amount of academic research available on Central African countries. Southern African countries seem to have relatively higher levels of access to landlines and mobile communication networks.
Moreover, as in cases on most developing countries, the research on countries in Sub-Saharan Africa approaches the internet heavily as a tool for education and development, especially regarding improvements in medical research. The research on East and West Africa is frequently related to diseases such as malaria, ebola, tuberculosis, and diarrheal diseases, and how ICTs are/may be used to prevent, contain or manage such diseases, while HIV is a prevalent subject of research for the entire region.
Connectivity and access issues are noticeable in the entire region when compared to the rest of the world, and most research focuses on political instability, urban-rural and rich-poor divides, monopolies and cybercrime-related issues, and generally poor infrastructures as the reason. Lack of energy and resources is another accustomed research subject.
Public institutions’ ability/inability to satisfy the needs of the public for ICT-solutions may require further research, especially in terms of accountability in state expenditures and these countries’ relations with their neighbors, as well as the rest of the world. While international networking, humanitarian aid and cooperation are included in more recent research, they may need more focus in the future. Central Africa requires more research, and most research on Southern Africa is outdated.
Mbarika, V.W., & Byrd, T. A. 2009. “An Exploratory Study of Strategies to Improve Africa’s Least Developed Economies’ Telecommunications Infrastructure: The Stakeholders Speak.” IEEE Transaction on Engineering Management. Vol. 56(2). 312-328.
This article reports that there are both technological and nontechnological precursors to modern information technology implementations for development, such as e-medicine, tele-education, e-government and e-commerce. It argues that the main indication for a nation’s infrastructure is teledensity, which means the distribution of landlines per 100 people, suggesting that wireless and satellite infrastructures should be established as a complement, not a replacement to landlines in order to prepare the region for a better state of telecommunications in the future.
Samantar, O. 2012. “Shining Sun and Blissful Wind: Access to ICT Solutions in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa through Access to Renewable Sources.” Sustainable Development Law & Policy. Spring 2012. 42-61.
At the time this article was published, around 40 percent of the world’s population without access to electricity lived in Sub-Saharan Africa. The article discusses the relationship between renewable sources and improvement of access to ICT solutions, emphasizing that even if ICT solutions are initiated, they might not be sustained by the existing energy infrastructures.
Futter, A., & Gillwald, A. 2015. “Zero-Rated Internet Services: What Is to Be Done?” ResearchICTAfrica [Policy Paper 1, 2015].
This short report describes some zero-rating initiatives by Facebook in developing countries which provide free access to basic internet services such as Facebook –without multimedia content- , Facebook Messenger, and country-specific websites related to education, finance, health, information, news and social issues via agreements with various mobile service providers. The authors discuss current debates on unfair competition and controversial advantages such services provide, such as some users accessing information for free unlike others who have to pay for them, and potential monopoly of Facebook over content and markets.
Deen-Swarray, M. 2016. “Toward Digital Inclusion: Understanding the Literacy Effect on Adoption and Use of Mobile Phones and the Internet in Africa.” Information Technologies & International Development [Special Issue]. Vol. 12(2). 29-45.
This article argues that the extent of adoption and use is suboptimal for some regions, although levels of access to ICTs have generally increased in Africa. It examines three levels of literacy –basic, English-language, and e-skills- and investigates how they may affect aduption and use of mobile phones and the internet in selected African Countries.
Donou-Adonsou, F., Lim, S., & Mathey, S. A. 2016. “Technological Progress and Economic Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from Telecommunications Infrastructure.” International Atlantic Economic Society. 65-75.
This study investigates the relationship between telecommunications infrastructure and development in Sub-Saharan Africa for the period 1993-2012 and finds that internet and mobile phones have contributed to economic growth. The authors suggest African governments to encourage policies to increase access or reduce costs.
Fosu, I. 2011. “Exploring the Potential of Wireless Technologies to Accelerate Universal Internet Access in Ghana.” Telecommunications Policy. Vol 35. 494-504.
This article reports that despite being one of the first countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to be connected to the internet, Ghana has a very low internet usage rate (5.3%, 2011). According to the author, most areas in Ghana suffer from connectivity issues due to the outdated fixed-line infrastructure, while some others are not connected at all. Establishing wireless broadband networks is suggested as a more cost-effective and reliable solution.
Sutherland, E. 2014. “Undersea Cables and Landing Stations around Africa: Policy and Regulatory Issues.” 25th European Regional Conference of the International Telecommunications Society, Brussels, Belgium.
This conference paper discusses the contributions of undersea cables to the improvements in access and cost-optimization in Africa, with a special focus on West Africa. The paper suggests that although there was an undersea cable connected to West Africa, which should have reduced the costs and improved connection quality, monopoly operators had views to extract rents, rather than expand use.
Taylor, L. 2015. “Inside the Black Box of Internet Adoption: The Role of Migration and Networking in Internet Penetration in West Africa.” Policy & Internet. Vol. 7(4). 423-446.
According to this article, technological inequalities between the rich and poor within developing countries may prevent new technologies from spreading as hoped. The author investigates the relationship of internet adoption in Ghana with migration, networking and mobile technology transfers, which provide initiatives for small-scale entrepreneurs.
Akanle, O., Adesina, J. O., & Akarah, E. P. 2016. “Towards Human Dignity and the Internet: The Cybercrime (yahoo yahoo) Phenomenon in Nigeria.” African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development. Vol. 8(2). 213-220.
This article examines cybercrimes with a perspective on human dignity and development. Nigeria is one of the most popular countries for cybercrime and internet fraud. The authors emphasize the problems arising from the infamy of Nigeria in neighboring countries, such as accusation of Nigerians of crossing their borders to perpetrate the crime offshore “since emails sent from Nigeria are already suspected.”
Mendene, J. N. 2012. “Initiating ICT in the Open Distance Learning of Gabonese Teachers.” (Dissertation, North-West University).
This paper focuses on the failures in implementation of Gabon’s (then new) undersea cable connection, which was planned to replace the previous satellite connection. The author suggests that internet connectivity provides many advantages for Gabonese teachers who want utilize open distance learning options for teacher professional development; however, the government fails to provide adequate resources, policies and research, in addition to existing problems in connectivity.
Stremlau, N. 2012. “Somalia: Media Law in the Absence of a State.” International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics. Vol. 8(2&3). 159-174.
The author suggests that despite being often described as a “lawless and failed” state, there are mechanisms such as effects of xeer law or customary law in regulating media in Somalia’s complicated legal environment, including both older media and newer media. Accordingly, there are various domestic and international structures and organizations that provide mobile access for some of the best connections and lowest rates on the continent.
Mtebe, J. S. 2014. “Investigating Students’ Behavioural Intention to Adopt and Use Mobile Learning in Higher Education in East Africa.” International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology. Vol. 10(3). 4-20.
The authors of this article established a model to study students’ behavioral intention to adopt and use mobile learning in higher education in East Africa, emphasizing potential contributions of wireless internet connectivity on the students’ performance and convenience. They found that expectation of performance had positive effects on students’ acceptance of mobile learning.
Ybarra, L. M. et al. 2014. “Acceptability and Feasibility of CyberSenga: an Internet-based HIV-prevention Program for Adolescents in Mbarara, Uganda.” Aids Care. Vol. 26(4). 441-447.
The authors of this article developed and tested CyberSenga, an internet-based, comprehensive sexuality education program for adolescents in Mbarara, Uganda. They found that the program was a feasible and acceptable way of delivering HIV preventive information to both sexually experienced and inexperienced adolescents in Mbarara, Uganda, while most of the participants did not think that the program contradicted local norms in most cases.
Olatokun, W., & Moremedi, B. 2011. “Internet Access, Use and Monitoring Policies in Botswana Organizations.” Annals of Library and Information Studies. Vol. 58. 282-294.
This study investigates the access to and usage of the internet in the workplace in Botswana. It examines the mechanisms in place in the workplace to regulate, monitor and provide internet connectivity for employees, and how different such mechanisms are among public sector organizations, research organizations and private sector organizations.
Twinomurinzi, H., Phahlamohlaka, J., & Byrne, E. 2012. “The Small Group Subtlety of Using ICT for Participatory Governance: A South African Experience.” Government Information Quarterly. Vol. 29. 203-211.
This article discusses usage of ICT for participatory governance purposes and argues that people in communities tend to prefer working in small groups, rather than individuals. The authors suggest that in many developing countries, participants of a cause come together in order to leverage the few available resources.
Akpabio, E. 2012. “A Critical Evaluation of Gender Link’s Utilization of New Media for Women Empowerment in Southern Africa.” GMJ: Mediterranean Edition. Vol. 7(1). 41-48.
The author of this article points out that ICTs are not gender-neutral and women tend to suffer negative consequences more frequently, while having relatively lower levels of access to these technologies. The Southern African NGO, Gender Links (GL) uses new media platforms to empower women and achieve goals of the gender movement in Southern Africa, while the author explains how they managed to start a movement that is changing traditional perceptions on “women and ICTs”.