April 25th, 2024

The Status of Women's Utilisation of and Access to ICT and Emerging Technologies in East Africa  (GIZ)

From May to November 2023, the “Support to East African Integration” (SEAMPEC II) Programme conducted a comprehensive analysis of the current situation and future potential of emerging technologies in East Africa, with a focus on how they can benefit women and vulnerable groups such as the elderly, youth, children, and persons with disabilities. The study looks at the participation of these groups and their access to and utilisation of emerging technologies, including skills and appropriate policies for inclusiveness. It proposes a series of strategic actions for the EAC and its Partner States to create a regional framework for the adoption and utilisation of emerging technologies.

The assessment reviews the ICT legal instruments and policies at national and regional levels and identifies the existing gaps, audits the regulatory policy in the ICT sector, analyses emerging technology trends, EAC capacities to utilise identified technologies, and current uptake. The assessment also analyses ‘use cases’ for the utilisation of emerging technologies by women and vulnerable groups, for example in financial services, health care and assistive technologies for elderly and disabled persons, education, community engagement, networking, and agriculture. The study provides recommendations on how access for women and vulnerable groups to ICT services can be established and improved, such as skills and conducive policies for inclusiveness, identification of relevant stakeholders from the Partner states, a capacity development programme, and timelines for implementation.

The assessment explores ownership and use of mobile phones, Internet access, computer access, as well as e-commerce access and usage at the individual level and among women and vulnerable groups in the EAC. It arrives at the conclusion that the region continues to struggle with broader technological adoption, with current data revealing that internet access was available for only 23% of the EAC population, with a mere 14% having access to high-speed mobile broadband services. It further states that advanced initiatives in 5G network implementation were limited to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania, with no EAC Partner State having established national strategies. It also reveals a lack of relevant regulations for emerging technologies, as most countries are still exploring initiatives with the private sector leading most of the innovations. Rwanda is mentioned as the only country that has developed a National Artificial Intelligence Policy in April 2023, the first of its kind in Africa.

Furthermore, the report observes that there is limited coverage of women and vulnerable groups in national policies and strategies regarding emerging technologies and notes that these limitations are attributed to factors such as insufficient infrastructure, high costs for services and devices, low digital literacy, regulatory challenges, and socio-cultural barriers. The report notes that the target groups experience exacerbated inequalities, often facing additional hurdles, including discrimination and exclusion, as far as the utilisation of ICT is concerned. However, it does not provide quantitative data on these inequalities.

The ICT gaps analysis on women and other vulnerable groups' participation and access to emerging technologies reveals that the majority of women and other vulnerable groups in the EAC have not embraced the use of ICT and digital tools to the same degree as other social groups. This is due to a lack of adequate infrastructure, education, and technical knowledge; a lack of business development and legal skills; a lack of proper mentorship; poor management; and inadequate start-up capital.

The assessment report recommends that the EAC Partner States should take the following steps to address the identified gaps:

  • Develop and implement a harmonised policy framework that guides the adoption of emerging technologies.
  • Coordinate regional infrastructure projects, such as cross-border connectivity initiatives, to improve internet and electricity access.
  • Establish an EAC-wide platform or forum for technology innovation, inviting private sector stakeholders, academia, and investors to collaborate on technology solutions, particularly focusing on marginalised groups. Partner States should offer incentives such as tax breaks or grants for such initiatives.
  • Initiate EAC-level programmes that promote skill sharing and capacity building across member states, focusing on emerging technologies. This could include digital literacy campaigns, exchange programmes, and online courses accessible to people in all Partner States.
  • Create a framework for public-private partnerships in the technology sector that can be adopted at a regional level, ensuring it promotes innovation, investment, and inclusivity.
  • Launch an EAC-wide campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of emerging technologies and increase community engagement, e.g., by showcasing success stories from within the region and globally.

Finally, the report suggests that addressing the digital divides for women and vulnerable groups demands an inclusive, collaborative approach that resonates with the unique needs and goals of these communities. The report urges the EAC Secretariat and Partner States to perform strategic alignment with broader regional initiatives, such as the EAC Vision 2050, the African Union Agenda 2063, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the ITU Connect 2030 Agenda, whose objectives require evidence-based planning centred on comprehensive, current data and an understanding of the specific challenges and opportunities presented by the digital transformation in the region.