The Gambia would not be the first country that features on your technological radar, but the little West African nation edged out regional giants such as Nigeria and Algeria in an annual survey that ranks progress in information and communication technologies.
The 2014 Global Information Technology Report published by, among others, the World Economic Forum, placed Gambia 12th in Africa, two rungs ahead of Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy that only recently announced that ICT now contributes nearly 8% to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The report says as a key driver of innovation and economic growth, ICTs are of growing importance following recent turbulence in global markets, and uses its Network Readiness Index to measure how prepared a country is to benefit.
The list of 148 countries—which the authors said represent 98% of the global economy—used ten pillars grouped under four sub-indexes to make its findings.
These include the political and regulatory environment in a country, its business and innovation culture, affordability, and the usage of ICTs by individuals and the government.
The Gambia routed Nigeria in all but one of the indices, including in usage, despite the larger country having a population nearly 100 times more.
Interestingly, and counter to the popular view, the survey found that The Gambia’s best result has been in creating the right political and business environment for technology to thrive.
Thriving internet culture
Campaign groups regularly accuse the country’s leader, President Yahya Jammeh, of riding roughshod over the rights of its citizens, while the World Bank ranked the country 150th on its latest Ease of Doing Business ranking, three places behind Nigeria.
But the country has a thriving internet culture. As far back as 1997 it was the first implementing country for the UNDP’s Internet Initiative for Africa, meant to strengthen development through increased internet access.
In another indicator that pluck is just as attractive as size, Seychelles and Rwanda placed in the top three, with the region’s most advanced economy, South Africa, breaking up their hegemony, while Cape Verde was also in the top five African countries.
Kenya, which has built itself a global reputation for technological innovation including money-transfer service M-Pesa and crowdsourcing platform Ushahidi, placed sixth in Africa and 92nd overall.
Seychelles performed particularly well in the usage of ICTs by individuals, government and businesses.
Rwanda, which is ranked among Africa’s least corrupt countries by Transparency International, has the best political and regulatory environment, the WEF survey found.
South Africa shock
South Africa had a shocker on the skills indicator, with the country ranked bottom of Africa on the quality of its math and science education, and its overall system.
The authors of the report said that while the continent has continued to develop its ICT infrastructure, especially by expanding the reach of mobile telephony, helping increase access to critical areas such as financial services, the cost was still a problem.
Further weaknesses in sub-Saharan Africa’s business and innovation sectors meant that these gains did not have more pronounced economic and social outcomes.
If not addressed, this presented the risk of creating a new digital divide.
This is important with the growing “Big Data” boom in modern economies. While the term has been more associated with Western economies, the world’s first true big data commons drew its data from the calling patterns of Cote d’Ivore citizens.
The report says that the value and magnitude of data available today means it is now “in a very real sense the equivalent of oil or gold”.
Globally Finland, Singapore and Sweden topped the ranking with Seychelles the best-placed African nation at 66th position overall.