Bending the Linear toward the Circular
Mobile is Driving Progress in Sub-Saharan Africa
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Mobile is Driving Progress in Sub-Saharan Africa

Mobile is Driving Progress in Sub-Saharan Africa

The dynamic growth of mobile communications is driving positive socioeconomic progress throughout the developing world. The most dramatic effects have been seen in Sub-Saharan Africa.

I make these statements by analyzing the work I've been doing for the past decade with Tau Global Research, and I've been heartened to see similar opinions expressed by other people and organizations in recent years.

Indeed, referring to the world as a whole, “mobile is a key enabler of sustainable economic growth and a major contributor to the delivery of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” according to an article posted by the World Economic Forum in 2018, written by Mats Granryd, Director General of the mobile communications association GSMA.

In the article, he goes on to note mobility's ability to connect people in remote areas and deliver health and educational services, information about programs to eliminate hunger, money transfers and other financial services, and even voting rights. Mobile devices have also become invaluable in disaster-response efforts and initiatives to monitor environmental programs of many types, he also points out.

Enter 5G
Nothing has fundamentally changed since 2018, and recent 5G launches throughout the world promise to bring vast new bandwidth and potential to developing nations. Although mobile devices themselves are no more green than any other manufactured product – and their often-quick disposal looks like a big issue – we can hope and work toward creating more highly sustainable socioeconomic progress in developing nations by dint of steadily increasing mobile communications.

My Tau Global Research work over the past decade has created a significant database of diverse technological and socioeconomic metrics for 145 nations throughout the world. I weigh the impact of technology by adjusting absolute progress for local economic conditions and governmental effectiveness. I connect dots between technology and socioeconomic progress when possible, knowing that this is not hard-science research – the social sciences remain an area where vast areas of grey and of opinion rule the day over the precise measurements we can achieve in mathematics, physics, or chemistry.

Cause for Optimism
But the data is strong enough for me to be unabashedly optimistic about mobile's potential in creating a continuingly progressive future for developing nations. Ingrained income disparity, governmental corruption, and ghastly factional violence always threaten to put progress to a hard stop. These problems may indeed not be solved anytime soon, or ever.

Yet mobile development continues, and it outpaces the other categories in the research I've been doing.

For example, when I look at overall rankings of relative progress, in what I call the Tau Index, the nations of Africa do not score highly. Rwanda is an exception, appearing in the world's top 10, driven by recent technological progress in this relatively small nation by its President Paul Kagame, a controversial figure if there ever was one.

The next highest Sub-Saharan African nations in the rankings are South Africa (#30), Indo-African Mauritius (#58), Tanzania (#64), and sparsely populated Namibia (#81).

Mobility's Momentum
But looking solely at mobility creates another picture. Mobile development is one of seven major inputs into the Tau Index, and reflects how quickly relative progress is being made given existing socioeconomic conditions. Countries with already highly developed mobile infrastructure (eg Scandinavian nations, Japan and South Korea) benefit less from this ranking than countries who are now building their infrastructures.

By this metric, Africa soars to the top: the category's top 30 includes 19 Sub-Saharan African nations: Burundi, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo, Zimbabwe, Niger, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia, Cote D'Ivoire, Cameroon, Ghana, Madagascar, Sudan, Gambia, Kenya, and Mali.

Are You Looking at LDCs?
These are many of what are known as the least-developed countries (LDCs) in the world, with varying prospects for positive socioeconomic progress. But it's important to note that this metric does not favor Africa exclusively; other leaders are found in developing Asia and Latin America.

There should be some optimism in these countries by organizations and individuals looking to explore and invest in developing nations. There are many other IT-centric metrics in my research, including datacenter infrastructure, Internet access and speed, and governmental attitudes toward tech in general. I welcome any and all discussions and interest in these topics and the nations that, perhaps surprisingly, are achieving progress in the face of tremendous obstacles.