Measuring Africa's E-Readiness in the Global Networked Economy: A Nine-Country Data Analysis

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ABSTRACT

This paper assesses the integration of Africa into the global economy by computing the e-readiness for nine African countries. The measuring tool used is simple and incorporates a variety of indicators used by comparable tools. Overall, the mean e-readiness of Africa is poor in comparison to other economies. Particularly, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) - with the exception of South Africa and its neighbors - has a poor e-readiness score; on the other hand, North African countries fared better than those in SSA. Furthermore, the paper highlights areas of relative strengths where policy makers in the region could exploit as efforts are made towards integrating Africa into the global networked economy.

Keywords: Information Age, Global networked economy, E-readiness, Africa

INTRODUCTION

The world has witnessed the birth of a new era - The Information Age. It is akin to a global wave sweeping through all corners of the world; albeit, its impact in Africa is minimal at this point in time. Many researchers have advanced a variety of reasons why African and other developing countries lag behind in this revolution (see, Odedra et al 1993; Molla 2000; WSIS 2004, Ifinedo 2005); however, not many have focused on the e-readiness aspects, which is the primary focus of this article. Further, it has to be noted that African nations are beginning to make progress towards adopting reforms that could help them embrace this new order (WEF 2002; Mbarika et al 2002; UNECA 2004; WSIS 2004; Hamilton et al 2004). Basically, African countries tend not to have the same infrastructural facilities and support as the developed West, which are in fact prerequisites for the new order.

The term digital divide is used to refer to such differing standards or imbalances between countries fully poised to reap the benefits of the information age and those that are unable (The Bridge Organization 2001); sadly, digital divide may also exist within the confines of a single nation. Our scan of development reports and relevant literature suggest that countries with lower competitiveness in the global networked economy are synonymous with those on the wrong side of the digital divide (see WDI 2001; Dutta et al 2003; ASPA 2003; WSIS 2004; EIU 2004; KAM 2002). Regardless, the information age is bringing about gradual, but remarkable shifts in our global society, for both the developed and developing countries. It is increasingly becoming common to see more and more nations across the globe shift away from erstwhile agrarian and industrial economies to one that is knowledge-based in which information resource utilization thrives. Such economies go by various names: network economy (Hart, 2003), knowledge economy (Neff 1998), E-economy (Turner 2001) and information economy (Castells 1999a), amongst others.

African countries cannot afford to stand by the sideline and watch as the rest of the world integrates into this network economy. Avgerou (1998, p.4) writes that "At the present, most developing countries are severely disadvantaged within a global economy which is increasingly more technology and information intensive: Unequal distribution of resources, such as telecommunications and technical skills, causes concern about the ability of developing countries to participate in the emerging world economy." If we as researchers ignore the current situation in Africa with respect to its poor use of ICT (e.g., Dutta et al 2003; ITU 2004) and its slow pace of integration within the global information economy (IMD 2001; WDI 2001; WEF 2004), this would only mean that the gulf between Africa and the rest of the world could be wider and historical patterns of inequality get reinforced (Heeks 2002; Avgerou 1998). In the bid to fuel discussions regarding the competitiveness of African countries in the global economy, this paper seeks to assess Africa's performance vis-à-vis other economies in the network economy with its discourse about Africa's e-readiness. …