Journalists gathered last week in the South African city of Johannesburg for an ‘Economic and Financial Reporting course’ were taken to task to dig into issues of economic viability, such as the ones that have caused the development of the continent to stagnate.
Guest speaker Professor Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, gave a brilliant expose on the theme: “Is Africa prospering or being looted?”
For him, Africa continues to lag behind other regions both in terms of the percentage of people with access to the “full range of communications services and the amounts and manner in which they can be used – primarily as a result of the high cost of services”.
“Large numbers of citizens across the continent still lack access to or cannot afford the kind of communications services that enable effective social and economic participation in a modern economy and society,” he said.
Despite a steady progress in mobile market growth, Professor Bond observes that there are still some bottlenecks that need careful consideration, especially when making policies that would impact the sector.
He pointed out some of the actual performances of the industry that unveil telling weaknesses. Although the mobile market has experienced significant growth, outcomes have been sub-optimal in many respects, he notes, saying these include the role of multinational capital in sucking out profits and dividends; the lack of genuine competition (collusion is notorious even in the large economies as South Africa); relatively high prices for cell-phone handsets and services; and limited technological linkages to internet service.
Last year, a report (“Towards Evidence-based ICT Policy and Regulation”) by Johannesburg researchers Enrico Calandro, Alison Gillwald, Mpho Moyo and Christopher Stork unveiled a host of ICT deficiencies, arguing that “cell-phones penetration figures tend to mask the fact that millions of Africans still do not own their own means of communication”.
Through this academic work, Professor Bond observed that the reasons the continent is lagging behind on this sector could primarily be blamed on the results of high cost of services: the cost of wholesale telecommunications services as an input for other economic activities remains high, escalating the cost of business in most countries; the contribution of ICT to gross domestic product, with some exceptions, is considerably less than global averages;
and national objectives of achieving universal and affordable access to the full range of communications services have been undermined either by poor policies.
“As a general trend across the continent, while the voice divide is decreasing, the Internet divide is increasing and broadband is almost absent on the continent and the fixed-line sector continues to show no signs of recovery as most countries experienced negative growth between 2006 and 2008,” he said.
“Africa is suffering from neo-colonialism, and that means the basic trend of exporting raw materials, and cash crops, minerals, petroleum, has gotten worse.”
For Professor Bond, the neo-colonialism syndrome has left many Africans staggering in destitute and poverty, saying “[neo-colonialism] has really left Africa poorer per person in much of the continent, than even at independence.”
The scholar academically argued that World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa Region Shanta Devarajan’s abstract that the continent’s “GDP per capita is not lower today than it was ten to fifteen years ago”, is misleading.
“The idea that there’s steady growth in Africa is very misleading, and it really represents the abuse of economic concepts by politicians, by economists, who factor out society and the environment,” he added.