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Africa’s Informal Sector Marred by Small Manufacturing Base and Low Technology Adoption, Brookings Experts Say



WASHINGTON, October 18, 2019 – Emerging digital technologies are making strides in the global economy, but some experts say that the impact in Africa may take on different forms.

Digital technology can increase productivity in Africa’s informal sector, said World Bank Executive Director Jean-Claude Tchatchouang at a Brookings Institute event Thursday. The informal sector is comprised of jobs in the gig economy, such as rideshares and online platforms.

What’s most important, he said, is that economic growth becomes more inclusive and has a lasting impact on alleviating poverty. Infrastructure, digital payments, online platforms and entrepreneurship are all key areas of improvement for African countries.

Africa’s exceptionally large informal sector is marred by its small manufacturing base and low technology adoption, said Mark Dutz, lead economist at World Bank Africa Region. However, this means lower-skilled workers could less likely be affected by worker-replacing digital technologies.

Moreover, he added, low levels of human capital and high levels of informality provide greater scope for worker-enhancing digital technologies, allowing workers to learn new skills on the job.

Regarding government’s role in this issue, Dutz said, the African Union’s commitment to promote digital technologies provides a window of opportunity to facilitate all types of technological adoption.

Maintaining focus in the non-technological sector is also vital. Africa’s strongest sectors in the manufacturing economy, said World Bank Senior Economic Adviser Mary Hallward-Driemeier, are the ones with the least automation. This is especially relevant towards agriculture.

Part of the lack of automation stems from China’s dominant role in the artificial intelligence industry, she said. Because China is producing so many robots, it’s actively trying to make sure that AI production doesn’t move elsewhere.

The bottom line is that economists and other experts need to focus outside of the traditional narratives of the tech and gig economies, said Tricia Williams, thematic research lead at the MasterCard Foundation. Many African countries are living on an analog system and simultaneously investing resources in digital technologies.

Increasing job opportunities and labor income remains the most sustainable way out of poverty, said Hallward-Driemeier.


Lorraine Kipling: Broadband Affordability Around the World Reflects a Global Digital Divide



The author of this Expert Opinion is Lorraine Kipling

More than half of the world’s population is online, but many people are still unable to access the resources and opportunities that the internet provides.

Meaningful connectivity has wide-reaching benefits in terms of work, education, and communication. In 2016, the UN declared that the internet was so embedded into modern life, that it constitutes a human right. Good internet access can not only vastly improve quality of life on an individual level, but has a positive impact on global economic and society.

‘Good internet access’ requires access to devices, digital literacy support, and sufficient and affordable strong broadband supply. However, in many countries, the high cost of getting online is a significant barrier for people with low incomes.

According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet, even the commonly used target for an ‘affordable’ internet costing 5  percent or less than the average monthly income would still exclude a significant proportion of the population from accessing the internet. They suggest that a 2 percent target would be more affordable.

Information from NetCredit based on global broadband prices with World Bank data

A recent study by NetCredit collated information on global broadband prices with World Bank data on average salaries in different countries. This series of infographics shows the percentage of the average income people need to pay to get online, as well as how much it costs for a strong and reliable broadband connection of 10Mbps.

The results clearly show that there continues to be a strong digital divide between the rich and poor in many countries.

Just as the income gap varies greatly from country to country, so does the extent of the digital divide. Of the 174 countries the study obtained data on, only 44 had broadband access costing below the 2 percent ceiling of affordability, and 77 had access below 5 percent. In 63 countries the cost of the internet was more than 10 percent of the average income, and in 11 of those countries it costs more than 100 percent what the average person earns to get online.

The study shows that cost of broadband access is well below the ceiling of affordability in countries with relatively high average salaries, such as Saint Martin (0.63 percent of the $3,903.91 average salary), Israel (0.68 percent of $2,912.46), and Monaco (0.68 percent of $5,043.69). Countries with strong economies such as San Marino, Germany, and Luxembourg were also under 1 percent.

In Yemen, meanwhile, where civil war has contributed to one of the poorest and least-developed economies in the world, broadband access is out of the reach of all but a tiny minority of extremely wealthy people. While the average monthly income for a Yemeni person is just $88.33, a broadband internet package costs 2792.50 percent of that ($2,466.67), and a 10Mbps package is vastly more expensive than even that.

Many African nations where internet costs more than the average monthly income

From the data available, there were 10 other countries whose internet packages cost higher than 100 percent of the average monthly income. These countries are all in Africa, where the digital divide is significant across the continent.

In resource-poor countries Burundi and Mauritania, whose economies depend on subsistence farming and livestock and average salaries are as low as $60.50 and $17.68, respectively, the internet costs more than 1000 percent of those amounts.

Even in countries with strong economies and apparently ‘affordable’ internet, the poorest and most vulnerable people in society fall into the digital divide. In the US, where the  internet costs 1.17 percent of the average salary, educators and experts are calling for greater equity in broadband access, arguing for connectivity to be treated as ‘a basic need within education.’

Global connectivity is now more critical than ever, and it is clear that better infrastructure and support is necessary to provide more equitable access to digital resources.

Lorraine Kipling is a freelance writer and editor from Manchester, UK. She writes for NeoMam Studios. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband News from Around the World: 4G in Lusaka, Australia’s National Broadband Network and Scotland Fiber Link



WASHINGTON, March 25, 2013 – A recent wrap-up of global broadband news included the following items:

Lusaka, Zambia

Zamtel, a Zambian Telecommunications company, has announced plans to increase mobile broadband Internet service and availability in the nation, according to the Lusaka Times. Zamtel Chief Eexecutive Officer Dr. Mupanga Mwanakatwe spoke of the company’s plans to increase internet availability in both rural and urban areas. Zamtels aims to see increased access to 2G and 3G connections. These second- and third-generation broadband connections are slower than the 4G customarily available in the developed world. Zamtel will also invest $4 million into the broadband infrastructure of Livingstone, in preparation for the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s general assembly to be held in late May. The Livingstone plan will allow for 4G connectivity at the UN event.

Australia’s National Broadband Network

Malcolm Turnbull, communications spokesman for of the opposition political party in Australia, warned that at its current pace of implementation, the government’s National Broadband Network could take 20 years to complete. Turnbull noted that when the government announced their National Broadband Plan, they promised to connect over 12 million homes by 2020. In 2012, the first year of the plan the government only connected 70,000 homes. Turnbull said of his own party’s upcoming broadband plan” will be released sooner rather than later, and there will be plenty of time – many months – before the election for people to consider it and debate it.”

Shetland, Scotland

Following damage to a subsea fiber cable, residents of Shetland, Scotland, were disconnected from broadband internet or cellular service for at least 48 hours. The local company Shetland Telecom noted that the damage to the cable and resulting unavailability is indicative of why more money must be invested into broadband infrastructure. According to the Shetland News, “Shetland Telecom manager Marvin Smith said that the situation demonstrated the value of the £1 million investment in a Shetland fibre optic cable that provides the first leg of the resilient link protecting local users.” Shetland Telecom is hoping to extend its local cable to Vidlin this year. It currently runs from Sandwick in the south to Sella Ness in the north of the isles.

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Broadband News from Around the World: Sicilian Fiber, English Internet Brands and Cape Town Controversy



WASHINGTON, March 17, 2013 – A recent wrap-up of global broadband news included the following items:

Islands of Sicily

The telecommunications company BT has announced plans to fund a 3.7 million Euro plan to “bring high-speed fibre broadband to the isles of Sicily,” according to The initiative will facilitate unused fibre-optic cables that have sat dormant off the island for several years. Residents of the isles currently rely on radio links to connect online. BT is hailing this initiative as “most ambitious project ever undertaken in the UK to bring super-fast broadband to a remote community”. This plan should begin to see inroads by 2014, and BT is hailing the development as environmentally friendly, as broadband access will come via existing fiber-optic wires rather than through the production and installation of new cables.

Cambridge and Petborough, England

By the end of 2015, Cambridge and Peterborough, England will have some of the leading broadband on the British Isles, according to That’s because the Cambridge County Council signed a contract with BT to bring “more than 24,000 households and businesses registering for the Connecting Cambridgeshire campaign – making it the most effective in the country – and the fantastic support of over 100 broadband champions.” Through the use of these “champions,” consumers are interacting with brands in a unique way. The article notes that businesses around Cambridge will see vast improvement to their infrastructures a. The U.K., which does a large amount of retail business online, will see an estimated 500 million euros back into the local economy by 2015.

Cape Town, South Africa

The Cape Town Chamber of Commerce recently criticized the government’s Department of Communications for “failing to meet targets and properly govern information and communication technology.” The local businesses are concerned about the slow pace of broadband roll-out, and the charges have led some to call for the Minister of Communications’ resignation. Department of Communications spokesperson Syabulela Qoza rejected the claims, stating that no businesses have reported any criticism to the agency. According to a local Cape Town website, “rural areas especially were being left behind, as private business could not afford to invest in their own infrastructure in sparsely populated areas.”

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