The Impact of Connectivity in Africa: Grand Visions and the Mirage of Inclusive Digital Development

  • Our review of the evidence suggests that the Internet and other ICTs have not had any undisputed transformational impact on economic development.
  • Instead, the evidence is inconclusive, and positive impacts appear to be idiosyncratic, contingent and variegated.
  • The available evidence base is also inconclusive with regard to connectivity’s role for inequality, and there is even indication that connectivity can exacerbate, rather than limit, existing inequalities.
  • Indeed, the way in which the sources we analysed referred to evidence appears to be highly biased towards a foregone conclusion of a strong positive impact: either claims were considered self-evident so that no evidence was cited, or claims were based on crude macro-economic assessments and positive anecdotes.
  • Negative consequences, risks and the possibility of no or limited impact were ignored almost entirely.
  • It was also revealing to see which types of publications were referred to as evidence in reports by international organisations. Reports from consultancies, industry associations, and other international organisations (such as the World Bank, Deloitte or McKinsey) were the most prevalent among referenced sources.
  • Academic, peer-reviewed and methodologically rigorous studies were only cited in the analysed content of three documents (out of a total twenty that were analysed), mainly in World Bank (2009) and WEF & Cisco.
  • Upon closer examination, even these studies proved to be heavily biased in favour of the conclusion that connectivity would have positive effects. The reports often cited potential causal impact chains rather than empirically shown ones, over-generalised results from specific cases, or even misquoted sources.3
  • It is a striking finding for us how assertive the authors of World Bank (2009) and WEF & Cisco are in making sweeping claims, even if it is apparent that their own review of evidence did not yield much in support.

Source: The Impact of Connectivity in Africa: Grand Visions and the Mirage of Inclusive Digital Development – Friederici – 2017 – The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries – Wiley Online Library