Africa suffers from a shortage in exposure to and experience with computers. This shortage makes the ability to develop computer literacy exceptionally challenging. The explosive arrival of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) has made computer literacy (defined here as the ability to use everyday computers to perform common tasks such as searching the internet, writing a document, and understanding how to use a program) a commonly expected skill and a key component of many jobs today — especially higher level jobs. As can be seen from Figure 1 above, the percentage of internet user penetration in Africa is lower than any other region (excluding Antarctica). Though startling, this shortage must be observed in reference to the greater overall picture which shows that this shortage of internet is exacerbated by the lower level of telephone sevice and general electricity service. In fact, Africa is behind the developing world (using the UN’s 2006 definition of developing countries). Even more striking is that Africa has lower levels of computer internet usage relative to the number of households that do have electricity and telephone access — pointing to the need for more ICT resources. The inability of most African communities to acquire computer literacy greatly damages their ability to compete for jobs and improve their economy in an increasingly globalized society.
In most cases, the significant cost of computers makes them unaffordable considering the average income levels in Africa. This price barrier is the leading inhibitor to the penetration of computer and internet usage in African households and causes a large shortage in the number of computers in Africa. Many countries also lack the necessary infrastructure to support the bandwith and electrical demands of ICT. This has led to public internet/computer sources (community access centers, internet cafés, schools) becoming the most prevalent (and usually affordable) method of access to computer technology. According to a recent household survey conducted by Research ICT Africa, the main location of internet use in many African countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, and Cameroon is the cyber/internet café.
Though several efforts currently exist that attempt to address the complicated technology gap most African nations face, the effectiveness of these programs are hotly debated. Because Cameroon’s economy is relatively strong, communities like Buea are frequently ignored by such organizations. At the forefront of these organizations is One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit organization that delivers laptops that are custom-designed for children to countries all across Africa. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also funds multiple efforts to provide ICT to low-income African areas. Much as a fishing pole is of little use to a hungry man without any instruction on how to use it, these and other similar solutions merely provide hardware to communities without any means for understanding how to integrate them into their communities. Furthermore, after the initial recipients of the computers have grown and advanced, there is no mechanism by which their knowledge may be passed on to further generations. Several retrospective analyses of the One Laptop Per Child effort have even found that communities are negatively affected by the depositing of computer hardware on uninformed communities. Several critics, led in large part by Cameroon’s very own Marthe Dansokho, have also faulted the organization for failing to use the computers in ways that address issues important to Africans as well as ignoring countries that do not comprise the most financially devastated.