Falling lower down the World Economic Forum (WEF) global information and communication technology (ICT) rankings is becoming an annual occurrence for South Africa.
The WEF this week released its Global Information Technology Report 2015 which contains its Networked Readiness Index (NRI) ranking. This ranking measures 143 economies in terms of their capacity to prepare for, use and leverage ICTs.
The index uses factors such as the political and regulatory environment, infrastructure and digital content, usage of ICT as well as economic and social impacts to calculate the overall NRI ranking.
And South Africa has slipped five places to 75th, meaning that it is now third in Africa behind Mauritius (45) and Seychelles (74). SA is wedged between Seychelles and the Philippines on the ranking.
In contrast, Mauritius has been climbing up the NRI ranking. The country has leaped from position 55 in 2013 to 48 in 2014, and now position 45 this year.
The gap between South African and other African countries is closing. Kenya, for example, has jumped six places to 86 on the index this year.
Meanwhile, South Africa is also lagging far behind the top five countries on the NRI index which comprise Singapore (1), Finland (2), Sweden (3), the Netherlands (4) and Norway (5).
“Despite a score unchanged from last year, South Africa loses five positions to settle at 75th place in this edition. The country’s overall political and business environment remains one of its strengths (31st).
In contrast, the general state of ICT readiness remains very low (102nd), the result of the poor quality of ICT-related infrastructure (85th), notably the limited international Internet bandwidth (128th),” reads the report.
“The cost of ICTs in South Africa is also a drag (107th). Nonetheless, individual usage has further increased with a 10-place jump to reach 68th. However, government still lags behind (105th), earning very low marks in terms of online services provided to the population (82nd).
Overall, the potential of ICTs has not been fully unlocked. Their social impacts have not yet materialised, and they have not significantly improved access to basic services (101st) or facilitated citizens’ e-participation (88th),” adds the report.
However, the report has noted that Africa’s performance overall on the index has been “particularly disappointing” as 30 countries on the continent included in the sample appear in the bottom half of the NRI rankings.
Even Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, dropped seven places on the ranking to position 119.
Local experts’ views
ICT experts in South Africa have weighed in with their views on South Africa’s diminishing position on the NRI ranking.
Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of technology research company World Wide Worx, said SA is stagnating in the global ICT stakes.
“The new rankings confirm our contention that the South African government, regulator and parastatals have put the brakes on ICT development, particularly through their failure to license spectrum that is required for high-speed mobile broadband, inability to finalise digital TV migration, and unwillingness to open up fixed-line broadband,” Goldstuck told Fin24.
“The South African government’s ability to deliver in ICT has been examined, and has been given a ‘fail’ mark. Only the continued investment by private enterprise has prevented it from falling even further down the rankings,” said Goldstuck.
Adrian Schofield, director and vice-president of the Institute of Technology Information Professionals South Africa, also highlighted government’s failure to spark ICT development.
“It comes as no surprise that SA is continuing to fall down the global rankings,” Schofield told Fin24.
“The ANC government has – with few exceptions – consistently failed to grasp the opportunities arising from the adoption of technology, with the principal failure being the abysmal disaster of the move to DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television) and the related lack of real broadband access for the majority of the population.
“Only a complete change of attitude in the DTPS (Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services) – and the removal of the DOC (Department of Communications) from this policy arena – will reverse the trend. We have all the policies we need but we are lacking the will to implement those policies,” Schofield said.