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The impact of digitalization on poverty alleviation in Africa

Kohnert, Dirk (2021): The impact of digitalization on poverty alleviation in Africa.

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Abstract

Digitalization in Sub-Saharan Africa enhanced the accessibility of communications by the majority of the poor who had been excluded among others from social media, independent information channels, mobile banking and e-commerce. The creation of new economic opportunities, e.g. the pay-as-you-go business, and increased flow of information also boosted people’s self-esteem, sense of belonging and citizenship. The smartphone became the main source of internet access which also bridged the divide between urban and rural communities. Thus, mobile telecommunications contributed positively to economic growth even in less developed regions, and there is apparently still ample space for further improvement. Yet, Africans were also confronted with new forms of the digital divide between the poor and the rich, between advanced and less advanced African countries, as well as between Africa and the rest of the world. Moreover, the digitalization of the public sphere became a double-edged sword. Autocratic governments like Sudan and Togo shut down the internet during elections to facilitate the rigging of the polls. The lack of transparency and objectivity fuelled fake news which rapidly spread in social media, notably in times of the Corona crisis. Last, but not least, not everybody surfing in the internet had the same access to quality information. For example, disinformation was supported clandestinely by foreign powers to destabilize political regimes, or spy software was provided to governments to control the opposition. Both false news in social media and spy-software impeded poverty relieve in Africa significantly.

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