Ghana’s diminishing digital divide
As stated in the country’s economic plan “Ghana Vision 2020”, Ghana plans to become a developed nation by the year 2020. After that it aims to achieve newly industrialised status by 2030. Key to these goals is Ghana improving its ICT infrastructure and penetration rate.
The country is already a regional hegemon, with strong service, manufacturing, agricultural and extractive industries. As of 2013 there was only 1.9 percent unemployment and a mere three percent lived below the poverty line. Bridging the digital divide is however integral to Ghana reaching the next level of its socioeconomic development. A central component to its ICT advancement is mobile telephony.
Defining the divide in Ghana
The digital divide is a term used to describe the deficit between those who have access to technologies (such as the Internet, mobile phones and tablets) and know how to use them, and those that don’t. In Ghana the digital divide is primarily between its urban population (the haves) and its rural population (the have-nots). Greater Accra – the small coastal administrative region centred on the capital city – has nearly 100 percent electricity access, compared with just 40 percent in Upper West, a factor influencing the country’s uneven telecoms penetration. (Electricity supply in urban areas is however often unreliable, and cuts and surges take a heavy toll on ICT equipment.)
Research suggests that Ghanaian rural society is ready for the adoption of better ICTs, that the success of the endeavour relies on the promotion of mobile telephony, and that private sector investment is a necessity[i]. Haruna Iddrisu, Minister of Communications, has said that the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Government will offer tax incentives and holidays to those organisations that invest in far-flung and rural ICT infrastructure, thereby helping to bring voice and data technologies to unserved and underserved populations.
The Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communication
The Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communication (GIFEC), which received legal backing following the Electronic Communication Act of 2008, was particularly active last year, running with numerous ICT-upgrade projects. Some of the projects undertaken were as follows: the Rural Telephone Project, the Community Information Centre Project, the School Connectivity Project, the Rural Pay Phone Project, the Easy Business Centre Project, the Library Connectivity Project, the Post Office Connectivity Project, and the ICT for Sustainable Fishing Project.
Moreover, according to Administrator and Chief Executive Officer of GIFEC Kofi Attor, the organisation funded and delivered ICT equipment to various organisations, such as 3,000 mobile phones, 60 desktop computers, 33 printers, 30 routers and 10 projectors to the Ghana Police Service and 1,000 mobile phones and 200 computers to the Bureau of National Investigation. Fully kitted ICT workrooms were installed at 38 colleges, 27 technical schools, 37 national vocational training centres, 25 community development schools, 62 nursing training schools, 293 senior high schools, 10 junior high schools, 10 national youth development institutes, three opportunity industrialisation centres, and eight farm institutes.
Attor has also emphasised that GIFEC, with its Girls’ Project and celebration of Girls in ICT Day, among other initiatives, is working to promote women’s access to ICTs. The 2003 Strategic Document on Gender and ICT states: “We, as a nation, must appreciate the fact that ICT has become the threshold of national development and it is therefore important we involve all citizens to avoid any technological divide between men and women.” While a gender gap does still exist within the ICT sector, focused efforts are being made to close that gap.
Attor has labelled 2014 as “a year of action for GIFEC”, and says he is confident they will bridge the digital divide within the country by the end of this year.
According to the ITU, fixed-line subscriptions were held by a mere one percent of Ghanaians in 2010 and only 17 percent of the population were making use of the Internet by 2012. By way of contrast, mobile phone penetration in 2010 was at 48 percent, and it reached 100 percent in late 2013, the result of heavy investments by mobile operators in 2009 and 2010. Ghana now has the highest mobile broadband penetration in Africa.
Back in 2010 Idrissu said the Government believes mobile phones are “no longer a luxury but a necessity” in Ghana, and as such has committed to ensuring its widespread availability and use, in keeping with the ‘Better Ghana Agenda’.
Accordingly, Ghana is one of the few African nations where the Central Bank has allowed mobile operators to offer money transfer services. Mobile banking has proved an asset, being utilised by millions and allowing for fast and easy money transfers with low service rates. Chief Executive of Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement Systems (GhIPSS), Archie Hesse, says that as of 2014 it will be possible for all Ghanaians to make payments via their mobile phones.
With Ghana ranked as one of the top 10 fastest emerging markets of 2013, the steeply upward trend in mobile telephony looks set to continue.