Increased digital inclusion in the Middle East and North Africa linked to uprisings
Image courtesy of photoaf (flickr.com)
New research developed to identify countries whose populations and economies are stifled by a lack of ‘digital inclusion’- the ability to use and access information communication technologies (ICTs), such as computers, the internet and mobile phones- has revealed that India is trailing behind the other BRICs nations of Brazil, Russia and China.
The Digital Inclusion Index, released by risk analysis firm, Maplecroft, uses 10 indicators to calculate the level of digital inclusion found across 186 countries. These include numbers of mobile cellular and broadband subscriptions; fixed telephone lines; households with a PC and television; internet users and secure internet servers; internet bandwidth; secondary education enrolment; and adult literacy.
Of the BRICs nations, India (39) is the only country to be classified as ‘extreme risk’, meaning that the country’s population suffers from a severe lack of digital inclusion. China (103) Brazil (110) and Russia (134) are rated ‘medium risk’. Despite huge economic growth, the BRICs nations are still significantly outperformed by developed nations in the Digital Inclusion Index. The countries with the best access to ICTs are the Netherlands (186), Denmark (185), Luxembourg (184), Sweden (183) and the UK (182). Trends suggest that the BRICs nations may not lag behind for much longer however.
The BRICs have witnessed huge growth in demand for ICTs, which is currently driving global spending for the sector. China has the highest total number of internet users in the world (420 million), accounting for just over half of Asia’s internet users and is set to become the world’s largest ICT market, whilst India, Brazil and Russia have all seen huge expansion in demand and market size for ICT’s in recent years. The distribution of ICT use in these nations and other developing countries is cause for concern however.
In India, for example, the wealthier, more affluent segment of the population, primarily based in urban areas, has embraced the use of modern communications technology. The growth of the middle classes in the country, which now sits at around 30% of the population, has driven demand for consumer goods, including ICTs. The vast majority of the population has, however, been excluded from this process. Most cannot afford ICTs (only 3% of households own PCs), lack the education required to use it effectively (India has secondary school enrolment rates of 55% and adult literacy rates of just under 63%) and are located in geographical areas that have little or no connectivity to ICT services. Although the division between those who can access ICT and those who cannot is less severe in the other BRICs nations, this trend is reflected throughout them all.
Digital Inclusion Index 2011
© Maplecroft, 2011
“Digital inclusion is important in both enabling people to participate in economic activity as well as facilitating their participation in the very process of democratic governance and education,” states Professor Alyson Warhurst, CEO of Maplecroft. “Digital inclusion has the potential to bring education to people in countries where educational infrastructure is limited and the development of cadres of teachers is still constrained”.
Internet freedom is also a serious issue; especially in China and to a lesser extent Russia. Despite the Chinese government’s efforts to expand internet connectivity across the nation having seen how it can aid economic growth, the internet remains heavily controlled. A sophisticated system of monitoring exists in the country and access to many websites is restricted and freedom of expression online is denied.
The social unrest rippling through the MENA states has highlighted the important role digital inclusion plays in increasing the potential for and the effectiveness of popular uprisings and protest in countries. In particular this applies to the MENA states where there exists an educated middle class and disenchanted computer literate youth, and where dictatorships prevail and democratic freedoms are restricted.
“Maplecroft’s extensive range of maps and indices bring insight to the numerous risk issues associated with the recent unrest across MENA states,” continued Professor Alyson Warhurst, CEO of Maplecroft. “Growth in middle class population size and increasing levels of computer literacy have intertwined with the frustration and disenchantment caused by widespread educated youth unemployment and restrictions placed on democratic freedoms. These phenomena warrant further investigation as they may help us understand the root causes of societal unrest and regime instability”.
Internet and mobile phone technologies played a central role in motivating and coordinating the uprisings that occurred in Tunisia (81) and Egypt (66) which toppled longstanding regimes; whilst in Libya (77) unrest has resulted in civil war. Social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter have heavily influenced and facilitated the actions of protestors in these countries. This was particularly apparent in Tunisia, where a third of the population use the internet and just under 16% of the population have Facebook accounts. In Egypt and Libya around 5% and 3% of the population use Facebook respectively, yet this was enough to help motivate and coordinate uprisings.
Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the worst performing region for digital inclusion with 29 of the 39 countries rated ‘extreme risk’ in the index and all of the top 10. These include: Niger (1), Chad (2), Ethiopia (3), Burkina Faso (4), Sierra Leone (5), the Central African Republic (7), Mali (8), Guinea (9) and Mozambique (10).
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