Modern information technologies is changing the way people live, work and play. Throughout the world, information and communications technologies are generating a new industrial revolution already as significant and far-reaching as those of the past. It is a revolution based on information, itself the expression of human knowledge.
The information revolution is creating new opportunities to address societal problems and the implementation of policies supporting projects geared toward poverty alleviation and rural development.
This is an achievement made possible for even rural communities through the telecentre facilities established in villages around the world and in selected African countries. These centres are in rural areas and serve as models for integrating telephone access with other ICTs. A telecentre is a common point of access for the entire community, providing a variety of technologies such as the Internet, fax, software applications and other uses.
Buying and selling products and services over the web has become part of everyday life for many who search via many different web search engines. Many are spending increasing amounts of time working with electronic information and engaging in e-commerce, the art and science of using electronic means and technology to conduct commerce, within-business, business-to-business and business-to-consumer. As Hoffman and Novak note, it involves sharing information, developing, and sustaining business ties and monetary transactions across telecommunications networks.
E-commerce is a growing force in the world economy and the Web is becoming a major source of business products, services, and information for many people worldwide. Most people see it as the ultimate form of removing the intermediary or go-between, a phenomena known as disintermediation.
The Internet will continue to become a key centerpiece for e-commerce. With the development of new tools and new ways of searching for business information, e-commerce will continue to grow.
Today we truly live in a global village, but it is a village with privileged “information haves” and many “information have-nots”. With the new technologies available to us, we have an opportunity to change this
A number of obstacles will have to be addressed before the Internet can be fully utilised to create wealth for the people of Africa. While more and more people continue to subscribe to internet services, communication infrastructure outside of major cities remain inadequate.
Connectivity beyond major capital cities poses a potential problem in the development and widespread application of e-commerce in Africa.
Another challenge is the lack of a trained people to support e-commerce transactions. The effective use of the Internet requires that people be properly trained in using the technology as a primary transaction medium.
To date, few Africans are aware of the potential power of the Internet to create wealth. This situation poses a major challenge in promoting electronic commerce.
Access to connectivity remains one of the major challenges in Africa. People who use the Internet would need access to computers that can send and receive messages using Web browsers such as Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Netscape.
In addition, they would have to find on their computers appropriate software to complete transactions. Easy and inexpensive connections to Internet service provider would be required. This is not readily available on the continent.
Closely related to these connectivity issues are financial matters. ISP services are expensive across the continent. A source of financial support would be needed. Multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and institutional donors such as churches and employers have a role to play in exploring funding options.
Another challenge to overcome is cultural bias. Most of the e-commerce transactions originate in Western countries. While a growing number of African businesses are using the Internet to promote their businesses, we still have a long way to go in using it as the primary mode of business transaction.
Electronic commerce, by its very nature, involves more than just on-line business transactions; it also involves the transmission of cultural/social paradigms and business norms between and among the participants. Any e-commerce program has to be conscious and sensitive to cross-national cultural experiences.
Without diligent research focusing on adapting the technology to the African situation, this will pose problems. Clearly, there is the need to address these issues so that e-commerce in Africa would not be seen as an attempt by foreign institutions to extend their influence to the continent. Some may view it simply as cultural imperialism.
Fortunately, Africa is beginning to realise the potential of the Internet as a means to taking advantage of opportunities offered by electronic commerce. The power of IT has reached the village signaling a new dawn of an easier and faster communication access for the rural people.
Rural Internet has become a reality and has got the potential for creating employment opportunities and wealth. With its ability to communicate quickly with potential buyers and brokers, the Internet is a valuable strategic planning and decision-making tools.
It bridges distances by connecting people all over the world, enabling them to share knowledge and information through e-mail, digital publications, online shopping, digital news wires, and other services. It is a medium in which people can find information, present information, and produce information by interacting with others online.
Adopting a proactive strategy and acting to bring the Internet to rural communities in developing countries will help enable rural people to face the unprecedented challenges brought on by the changing global economy.
Dr. Osei K. Darkwa