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Digital oases and digital deserts in Sub-Saharan Africa

Journal article
Authors Robert Wentrup
Patrik Ström
Richard Nakamura
Published in Journal of Science & Technology Policy Management
Volume 7
Issue 1
Pages 77-100
ISSN 2053-4620
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Business Administration
Centre for International Business Studies
Department of Business Administration, Management & Organisation
Pages 77-100
Language en
Keywords IT Industry, Services, Africa, Sub-Sahara
Subject categories Business Administration, Economic Geography


Purpose – This paper aims to investigate whether Sub-Saharan African countries are catching up with the rest of the world in terms of online usage. Online service usage is an important component of the discourse of the “digital divide”, an emblematic term for the inequality of information and communication technology access. Design/methodology/approach – This paper is a quantitative analysis of internet and Facebook penetration coupled with economic strength (GDP/capita), literacy and degree of rural population. Findings – The findings reveal a heterogeneous pattern with a few African countries being digital oases and close to European levels, whereas the majority of the countries are still digital deserts. A strong correlation is found between economic strength and internet penetration. A generalist picture that Sub-Saharan is on the trajectory of closing the digital divide is an imprecise reflection of the reality. Research limitations/implications – It is argued that instead of measuring supply-side data, which has been the trend till now, the use of demand-side elements such as online service usage tells more about digital inequalities between countries. Practical implications – The research encourages internet firms to open up their eyes for Sub-Saharan Africa as an investment opportunity with an untapped gap of online usage. Social implications – The three-billion internet users on the planet are unevenly spread and under-represented in Africa. By drawing a heterogeneous online usage landscape, digital policy can be accurately steered toward countries with the largest needs. Originality/value – There is a paucity of research going into the depth of online usage in Africa. The paper is a contribution to fill that gap.

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