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Africa's Digital solutionsThe COVID-19 pandemic presents a chance for Africa to modernize by going digital, even after the socioeconomic consequences COVID-19 has wrought. Policies and economies have to be rebuilt and Africa has taken the steps to restore its nation with digitalization at the forefront. Through Africa’s digital solutions and technology innovations, the nation will become more sustainable, competitive and creative.

The Aftermath of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped increase the spread of new technology across Africa. The pandemic has spurred incredible creativity when it comes to technological innovations. According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization, Africans are responsible for 13% of all new or improved COVID-19 technology created. Two countries that have specially crafted technologies specific to the pandemic are Ghana and Tunisia.

Ghana created a COVID-19 tracking app and drones that deliver at-home COVID-19 tests as well as handwashing stations that are solar-powered. In Tunisia, a government ministry invented a robot to assist in enforcing lockdowns. Africa has made striking technological enhancements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, COVID-19 has also highlighted the digital divide between the wealthy and impoverished, online and offline.

The Digital Divide

The unequal access to information and communication technologies, or the digital divide, shines a light on the technological gap in developing countries. Due to the general delayed adoption of internet technology, Africa experiences difficulties overcoming barriers to long-term growth. Civil society and the commercial sectors cannot produce transformational progress alone. The digital divide in Africa is fueled by the continent’s socio-economic disparity. In order to transition to a digital society, governments must accelerate the use of digital technologies in all sectors.

Throughout the pandemic, digital media and technology have been critical, allowing for the continuance of work, communication and instruction. According to research by the International Telecommunication Union, only 28% of the African population has access to the internet. It is crucial to consider the many obstacles Africa has to overcome when it comes to digital technology. Not only is there a lack of internet access in Africa but the country also lacks electric power, access to education, social inclusion and more.

Africa cannot regress to pre-pandemic conditions as it recovers from COVID-19. Instead, Africa must create a brighter future that acknowledges the importance of digital transformation, particularly modern technology. Africa’s digital solutions can help overcome the continent’s complex challenges, including poverty, healthcare, industrialization, environmental degradation and government administration.

The Missing Piece: Policy

The majority of studies indicate that digital technologies are critical for solving global issues. However, technologies implemented without laws and policies that support new technological infrastructures rarely succeed long-term. With Africa’s digital solutions, the continent will be able to accelerate its transition to a sustainable and equitable economy.

For example, Rwanda, a country in Africa, is an excellent example of how the development of sustainable legislation can provide benefits to its citizens. Rwanda’s government has made significant investments in digital technology facilities, which resulted in 90% of the population having internet access and 75% of the population having mobile phones.

Enabling policies that provide digital technologies and promote their use will enhance Africa’s recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, it is essential to realize the importance of innovations through digital technologies and put action behind policies that support socioeconomic equality in Africa.

– Anna Lovelace
Photo: Unsplash

Mobile Government
Worldwide, more people have access to mobile phones than to proper sanitation. As crazy as it sounds, mobile phone access can be advantageous. The International Telecommunication Union estimates that out of the 7 billion people on earth, around 6.5 billion have access to a mobile phone. As of 2018, 100% of the population in low- and middle-income countries had access to mobile phones, whereas 55% of the population in low-income countries owned a mobile phone. The pervasiveness of mobile technology can help build expansive government networks. Mobile Government (mGov) could provide citizens and businesses with extended benefits and stir up overall economic growth.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, several countries with pre-established digital governments have launched public services that people can access via mobile phones. The introduction of these online services could be a blessing for developing countries, where the communication between the government and the residents is almost nonexistent.

What is a Mobile Government (mGov)?

Mobile Government is a government-led platform that uses mobile technology to increase active participation in government operations while offering several government services and applications that individuals can access electronically. It provides quick and easy access to integrated data and location-based services and helps to empower citizens. Here are different ways Mobile Government can make a positive impact.

Increased Financial Inclusion

As per World Bank reports, by 2018, the number of people holding bank accounts shrank from 2.5 billion to 1.2 billion in just seven years. As a result, less than 50% of the adult population did not have a link to traditional banking systems. Therefore, to increase the financial inclusion of the citizens, governments all across the globe are undertaking initiatives to encourage and support the development of financial technologies.

In India, Jio, an Indian telecommunications company, in collaboration with the government, stirred a socio-economic revolution by providing subsidized 4G service to more than 200 million subscribers in under two years. Likewise, the mobile currency has transformed the Kenyan economy. More than three-fourths of the population have gained access to mobile wallets (M-Pesa) and can participate in financial transactions.

Similarly, online services can be useful in distributing money among the poor since only a small fraction have operational bank accounts. About 1.2 billion users across 95 countries use mobile money. Many countries use mobile payment services to provide monetary assistance through Government-to-person (G2P) payment systems.

In Bangladesh, the government is providing 5 million families with economic support by transferring money online, ensuring that families have a stable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The usage of mobile has helped reduce corruption dramatically, improve access to financial services and boost participation in economic activities.

Better Access to Essential Services

Mobiles have made access to health, education, agriculture and other services trouble-free for the general public. In the same way, mobile phones are going toward addressing serious health problems. Increased communication can bring awareness about safe drinking water, birth control, maternal health and malnutrition amongst many others.

Globally, 774 million people are unable to read or write. Out of that group, 123 million are youth. One can frequently trace illiteracy to a lack of books. Studies have revealed a positive correlation between high illiteracy rates and a shortage of books. The majority of people in sub-Saharan African do not have access to books and the schools in the region rarely do anything about it. As a solution, several developing countries have replaced physical texts with online books, allowing a larger proportion to access books. For instance, educators in schools in countries like Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria and Pakistan read stories to the children from mobile phones.

Mobile phones can also combat dengue fever in Pakistan. Sanitary workers use smartphones to send geo-tagged images of swamps to the central health experts. Afterward, health experts monitor the images.

The agriculture sector in Ethiopia and Uganda also utilizes mobile phones in a significant way. It employs mobile phones to deliver early alerts on droughts, food shortages, pests and weather-related calamities.

Enables Social Accountability

The governments in developing countries are using mobile technology to promote the use of SMS texts to enhance social accountability among the citizens. A study that took place in 46 African countries unearthed a correlation between high mobile penetration and low corruption rates.

In several developing countries, citizens receive encouragement to notify their governments of any matters that require addressing. In Pakistan, the Director-General of the Passport Office sends a message to the visitors inquiring about any bribery encounters or any other issues.

Mobile Government can be a powerful tool, useful in extending access to existing services, developing further innovative, inclusive services and increasing citizen participation in all realms of the public sector. Mobiles can dynamically foster civic engagement, facilitate transparent democracy, reform the outdated educational systems and create advanced healthcare infrastructure in developing countries. The use of mobile technology can tackle the growing digital divide between low-income and high-income countries. Hopefully, this will uplift the economies and literacy rates in developing countries.

– Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr

How Technology is Reducing Poverty in Thailand
Thailand, Southeast Asian Nation, is a country that has benefited from programs that use technology to help people living in poverty. There are several examples as to how technology is reducing poverty in Thailand, and some of them are going to be presented in this article.

Internet Centres

International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) of Thailand have established more than 20 rural internet centers nationwide. NBTC-ITU Volunteers programme built this network, and each of the over 20 centers is equipped with at least 10 computers connected to the internet. The centers, located in 16 provinces across the country, strengthen information and communication technology (ICT) skills among students and are helping to promote social and economic development in some of the most remote areas of the country.

At the centers, students, youth and members of the local community are trained in how to use computers and are given courses for basic digital literacy needed to access information online. The center is useful because it gives students the ability to do online research in order to widen their knowledge of various subjects taught in school. They have also been able to transfer the computer and internet knowledge they have gained back to their families and communities, allowing them to use e-commerce platforms to do business and thus expand their family incomes.

Internet Advantages

While global connectivity is rapidly expanding and empowering billions of individuals around the world, ITU data shows that more than half of the global population remain cut off from the vast resources available on the internet. Access to information and communication technologies can help facilitate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in rural areas. Access to the internet allows citizens to access basic services such as education and health care and is helping to lift people out of poverty through e-commerce and job growth. Nowhere else is this more pertinent than in rural and remote areas. In 2016, Thailand had more than 29 million internet users or 42.7 percent of the total population, which puts the country in the 24th place in the worldwide ranking of internet users.

Thai People Map and Analytics Platform

In 2018, the Office of National Economic and Social Development Board (NESSB), the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (NECTEC), the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and the Ministry of Science and Technologies joined up to help alleviate poverty in Thailand. The NECTEC center developed the Thai People Map and Analytics Platform (TPMAP) to pinpoint the problems people are facing in Thailand in different areas. Policymakers can use TPMAP to decide on which poverty programmes are suitable for each poverty-stricken area specifically. The data system TPMAP collects can help improve the quality of people’s life by increasing income, boosting employment opportunities and reducing living costs.

Suttipong Thajchayapong, a senior researcher at NECTEC, said that to understand poverty in Thailand, the three questions of who are the poor, what are their basic needs and how can their poverty be alleviated need to be answered. TPMAP can precisely answer these questions by integrating data from different government agencies. It can also compare individual indicators year to year to see if poverty is reducing. TPMAP uses five poverty benchmarks to determine levels of poverty. These benchmarks include education, healthcare, income, living standards and access to public services. The total number of people surveyed this year was 36,647,817 people and out of this number, 1,032,987 were targeted as poor people, according to TPMAP.

Establishing internet connections as well as various platforms such as TMPAP are examples of how technology is reducing poverty in Thailand. If Thailand continues to implement programs utilizing technology, people living in poverty will have more access to basic services. The country has implemented multiple programs that have addressed the issue of reducing poverty in Thailand. Utilizing technology is crucial for helping people living in poverty to access basic services.

Casey Geier
Photo: Flickr