While the world’s economy is struggling to recover from the global financial crisis, the African economy is in the midst of a long boom. Over the past decade GDP has been increasing on average at 5% a year, and over the next five years, Africa’s economy will grow faster than any other continent. One contributory factor has been the takeup of information and communications technologies (ICTs) and, in particular, the spectacular growth in mobile communications. The number of mobile subscriptions in use in Africa increased from fewer than 25 million in 2001 to almost 650 million by 2012. Two-thirds of African adults now have access to ICTs.
The power of ICTs is more than just putting mobile phones in the hands of poor people. By allowing people to access health information, agricultural price data or educational games, ICTs can strengthen other sectors, and possibly the whole economy. ICTs are now helping Africa to overcome its traditional market failures – such as communicable diseases, the public-goods aspects of having a literate and numerate population, and clean water and sanitation – as well as government failures – absentee teachers and doctors, patronage-ridden water and electric utilities, etc. Avoiding the excesses of the past, most African governments intervened by providing the regulatory framework and public goods such as the backbone for broadband services. The rest is being provided by the private sector, which has every interest to capture the profits from this private good. In short, they balanced the interventions to correct market failures with the avoidance of government failure.