Gakunga Edwin Mwangi
Gakunga Edwin Mwangi from the University of Nairobi explores the potential impact that utilising ICTs would have in reducing poverty across Africa.
“Edwin Gakunga is an upcoming lawyer (currently a legal intern) from the University of Nairobi, Faculty of Law. He takes particular interest in Law, Science and Technology, and Intellectual Property Law. On the same, he provides free legal aid. Gakunga is also an experienced researcher and writer and has previously worked as a research assistant. On the side, Gakunga runs a trusted professional photography business in Nairobi, Kenya under the brand name Gakunga Photography. He serves an expansive and diverse clientele, ranging from corporates, educational institutions, and private organizations and persons. He has been certified by The Michigan State University, having successfully undertaken a photography course. Gakunga is also a certified digital marketer with a working experience in social media marketing and Graphics Design.”
Some have praised ICTs as the solution for developing countries entering the information age. ICTs have been seen as enablers of economic growth by allowing developing countries to access global markets. This has contributed to the firm belief that ICT is an effective tool for poverty alleviation (Yekini et al, 2012). On the other hand, there have been counter-arguments that ICTs aggravate poverty. For example, this pessimistic perspective maintains that ICTs have led to the increase in the digital divide that unfairly excludes some countries from participating in the global marketplace. The digital divide refers to the wide gap in access to new technologies between the developed and developing world. This entrenched social exclusion is seen as an inequality, rendering it challenging to understand precisely how ICTs contribute to poverty reduction (Kanjo, 2020). The approach to addressing the digital divide has been by constantly introducing newer and more complicated technologies in developing countries. Nevertheless, it has been shown that new ICTS are not always the best way to solve Africa’s poverty-related issues (Adera et al, 2014). This article seeks to guide an understanding of how ICTs can be appropriately used in the positive fight against poverty in Africa.
ICT (Information, Communication, and Technology) is a concept that equates to new technologies such as computers and the internet and traditional communication media such as radio and television (Greenberg, 2005). ICTs allow for the creation, storage, management, and broadcasting of information through electronic means. The understanding of poverty in the modern world is beyond just deprivation of material property. Current definitions of poverty include aspects such as lack of access to credit, education, or quality health care services, lack of power, being left out from key decision-making processes, also known as social exclusion, and susceptibility to external events such as violence, external economic shock, and natural disaster (Yekini et al, 2012). This is a multi-dimensional approach that defines poverty as the reverse of well-being.
Despite the general perception of ICTs as near-magic solutions to many problems in many areas in Africa, they still fall short. They are not always been able to address issues relating to poverty in developing countries. One challenge is that the investment in ICT infrastructure does not automatically translate into productivity. Sometimes the cost of acquisitions is higher than the benefits accruing. Secondly, integrating technology is a complicated process, and many projects fail. Thirdly, developing countries are mostly budget and skill- strained, meaning that the net effect of these ICTs is unlikely to yield meaningful results in financial empowerment of the society (Yekini et al, 2012). These are among the known challenges and shortcomings that ICTs pose to many African economies.
However, there are many ways ICTs can help towards reducing and eradicating poverty in Africa. To start with, geospatial technology, including satellites and drones, can deliver vital information to target services for small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, improving yields and boosting incomes. It has been noted that farmers from these areas have low agricultural turnovers and limited access to technologies. In Kenya for example, a technology company called Lima Labs helps farmers monitor their crops using on-farm sensors. This technology allows farmers to see what’s coming with ground-level insights that minimize waste and increase profits utilising easy-to-use data-driven decision making (Lima, 2022).
ICTs can promote inclusivity for traditionally excluded populations. For example, E-learning can help small businesses in remote locations increase access to information and training for sustainable economic development. As it has already been pointed, it is not always necessary for global partners to introduce newer and more complicated ICT models to address poverty in developing African countries as that may not be cumulatively sustainable. However, the proper use of ICT will reduce instances of failure of technology projects often caused by the lack of understanding of the local economies and their markets.
ICTs have an extensive developmental impact and have been suggested as crucial empowerment and income generation tools in developing nations. They are also seen as pathways for increasing access to education and other social services. A study in East Africa between 2007/2008 to 2010 established that a one-unit increase in ICT access over a two-year gap was associated with a 3.7 percent improvement in poverty status (May, Dutton and Munyakazi, 2014). ICT is therefore a proven means of reducing financial deprivation. These authors criticize most conclusions that have previously shown otherwise for relying too much on generic data. ICT increases efficiency, provides access to new markets or services, creates new opportunities for income generation, improves governance, and is a voice for the poor. ICTs can revolutionize the informal African economies by innovating new business models and formalizing traditional informal economic activities. This has already been seen through mobile-money transfer technologies such as Safaricom’s MPESA, which allows people from rural and informal settlements access financial services that can be used to scale up their businesses or as shields from economic turbulences.
In conclusion, African governments and their global partners should emphasize ICTs access and their practical sustainable use at all levels, including setting up public access facilities, providing relevant content, and capacity-building. They should also address the associated challenges entrenched in these ICTs to ensure they do not further aggravate poverty. For better results in Africa, ICTs used must be sensible, affordable, scalable, and self-sustaining.
Adera E and others, ICT Pathways To Poverty Reduction: Empirical Evidence From East And Southern Africa (Practical Action Publishing Ltd 2014)
Greenberg A, Icts For Poverty Alleviation: Basic Tool And Enabling Sector (SIDA 2005) <https://cdn.sida.se/publications/files/sida4937en-icts-for-poverty-alleviation.pdf> accessed 17 June 2022
Kanjo C, ‘Poverty By Design: The Role Of ICT’  Off and Online Journalism and Corruption – International Comparative Analysis
‘Lima’ (Lima Labs Limited, 2022) <https://www.lima.ag/> accessed 17 June 2022
May j, Dutton v, and Munyakazi l, Chapter 2: ICT Pathways To Poverty Reduction: Empirical Evidence From East And Southern Africa (Practical Action Publishing Ltd 2014): Information and communication technologies as a pathway from poverty: evidence from East Africa.
Yekini N and others, ‘Ict “Tools” For Poverty Eradication And Economic Growth In Nigeria’ (2012) 2 Greener Journal of Educational Research