Over the past four years we have been working on a project to explore the impacts of changing internet connectivity in East Africa. In particular, we have focussed on the impact of connectivity on key sectors of production in the region, to see how the internet has been adopted and used to drive economic impact. With the completion of this project we are happy to share our key findings and recommendation in three reports as outlined below.
Reflections on internet connectivity
We found that more reliable and better connectivity is affecting economic relations in all sectors. Most notably, as internet connectivity has become more available, reliable and cheaper, the ability to reach new customers and improve economic value is increasingly linked to digital resources, as much as the configuration of material goods.
However, contrary to the expectations of political leaders in the region and forecasts, there is little evidence to suggest that improving connectivity has led to widespread improvements for small or medium firms in the region. The conditions necessary to codify, digitise, and access digital assets favour already powerful firms over marginal ones. Moreover, as digital networks grow in the region, those with control over the digital are liable to expand their control.
Examples of more favourable conditions have emerged in instances where firms have been able to access and use the internet for establishing novel competitive advantages and niches. Thus, rather than looking to digital connectivity as the means of allowing firms to compete within already established markets, East African firms may want to identify existing competitive advantages, and re-thinking how digital networks might enhance these advantages.
In sum, perspectives need to move away from solely exploring technical elements of internet access, or even focus solely on skills, management and finance. Rather, we need to ask who exerts control over the digital and how, when and under what conditions this control over the digital might change.
Report 1: The Internet and Business Process Outsourcing in East Africa
Five years ago, firms and governments in East Africa were talking enthusiastically of business process outsourcing (BPO) as transforming economies and creating new dynamic service sectors. But the expected transformation has not occured.
This report explored the reasons behind the slow development of BPO sectors and the responses in Kenyan and Rwanda.
Report 2: Connectivity and the Tea Sector in Rwanda
Where they were present, digital flows of information were increasingly important to the ability of firms to improve production and ultimately to increase their share of economic value from tea.Thus we see a growing importance of ‘data-driven value chains’ – that is, new digital information flows which are becoming as important as the flows of material goods.
Report 3: The Internet and Tourism in Rwanda
Tourist service providers in Rwanda have a very high Internet adoption, and even the smallest hotel or tour agency is likely to have at least one mobile Internet-connected laptop. Many of the global tourist platforms also have a presence in the region. So, Internet connectivity, Internet access and sector-wide platforms are available for tourism firms. However, we found impact of internet on Rwandan tourism to be modest.
In this report we explore the uneven relationships, platforms and customer relations which effects the impact of the internet in tourism