Developing countries unable to harvest digital dividends

The World Bank's World Development Report 2016 Digital Dividends whilst documenting many examples where the internet, mobile phones and related technologies have promoted inclusion, efficiency and innovation ominously acknowledges that an estimated 60% of the world's population remains excluded from the ever expanding digital economy.

"Digital adoption by firms in developing countries has been slow. Automation even of mid-level jobs is disrupting labour markets. And E-Government initiatives have a dismal track record. The claims by many advocates of digital technology that the benefits of the digital revolution will automatically trickle down to everyone and everywhere have not been validated," said Elene Imnadze, Country Representative of the World Bank in Botswana.

She said, "In today's world, roughly half the world adult population that does not have access to the net can find itself deprived of basic necessities. Six billion people lack access to high speed internet and 4 billion still have no internet access. We must invest in infrastructure but even more important is to pursue sector reforms that provide the environment in which the private sector has the incentives to expand access."

The World Bank Group in Botswana reportedly has a very strong track record of supporting the digital development agenda. This includes ICT infrastructure investment in fragile or remote countries where the private sector is unable to do the job, in an effort to galvanize support for the use of digital technology to promote competitiveness and to further diversify the economy.

The World Bank worked with BOCRA, the ICT regulatory agency, to introduce a unified licensing scheme in September 2015. It has also been assisting in developing an open data readiness assessment for Botswana.

The Bank has also been working with the Botswana Innovation Hub, to deepen ties with the local developer community.

In a new phase of the project on economic diversification and competitiveness it will facilitate the development of a mobile application lab(MLab) to provide training and incubation for start-ups for mobile application development.

Local officials revealed that their experience in Botswana is that solutions are often created without taking end user into account, a problem compounded by limited access to the internet and high costs of data remaining obstacles.

"You do not want to spend a long time just trying to access the internet. You may even decide to get dressed, leave home, stand in a queue and get it yourself to avoid the hassle. If you buy something online it must make economic sense and the turnaround from purchase to delivery should be reasonably quick," said Tshepo Tsheko, the newly appointed Director of Marketing and ICT at the Botswana Innovation Hub(BIH).

He said, "If internet is slow and you take 30 minutes to access internet you think internet is slowing me down and you get turned off. Things must be better. If you get sub standard service off the internet there is no reason for anyone to use it."


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