Mobile technology can help solve Africa’s social problems

The ability for mobile technology to solve major social problems in Africa is unprecedented, says Communication Minister Dina Pule.

“From health to education, mobile technology is changing the way all sectors of society do business,” she said during her address to the Second e-Skills Summit 2012 and Global ICT Forum on Human Capital Development in Cape Town on Monday.

The minister noted that a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey indicated that South Africa and Kenya were leading in mobile health deployments.

While the applications in South Africa focused on improving the efficiency of healthcare workers, Kenya had witnessed a large number of awareness and prevention solutions, especially around HIV/Aids.

Locally, mobile technology was also changing the way learning took place. The M-Ubuntu project uses mobile devices to support under-resourced teachers and assist matriculants.

These were just some of the examples of how modern cell phone technology was enabling equity in the emerging information age, Pule said.

The challenge facing South Africa and many parts of the developing world revolved around equity. This included equity in opportunity, capacity building, socio-economic equity, human equity and gender equity.

It was clear that success in addressing equity in the 21st century would involve the social appropriation of ICTs for local benefit, she added.

The “absolute hunger” of people to socially appropriate ICTs for local benefit was evident in the adoption of cell phone technology in Africa.

Africa has over 695 million cell phone subscriptions and a cell phone penetration rate of 65%. In many African countries, including South Africa, cell phone penetration rate is over 100%.

“We are indeed the mobile generation. Nowhere is change more evident than in the unprecedented escalation of the capacity, mobility, affordability and accessibility of new forms of ICT,” Pule said.

The biggest potential for useful impact of this technology is in dealing with inequity in developmental states which represent more than 50% of the global population, she added.

Africa’s young population may account for its willingness to embrace cell phone technology.

“This mobile mania is also being spread because the cell phone is not just a tool for communication but also a vehicle to access information, education, entertainment, banking services and health information. Mobile technology is empowering our continent and people like never before,” she said.

In the South African context, it was important to respond to the challenges and opportunities that arise with new technology, with new approaches that recognise the importance of social and cultural aspects in dealing with inequity, prosperity; new forms of developing a creative economy; and building a more self-reliant and resilient socio-economic base.

The minister also highlighted the importance of collaboration.

“There simply is not enough time for competition in this space, the costs of developmental states not working together in an ICT enabled world are simply to horrid to contemplate,” she pointed out.

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