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Universal service funds and the captivity of digital inclusion in Africa

Posted by Emmanuel Arakpogun Feb 8, 2019

Granted that the liberalisation of the telecoms market in Africa has resulted in an unprecedented level of mobile coverage, the digital divide of uneven mobile coverage persist albeit in variations within countries and between regions. It is thus argued that over 500 million people across Africa lack access to mobile telecoms, especially when we discount multiple SIM ownership.

Although universal service funds (USFs) have emerged as the primary policy tool for closing the digital divide in most African countries, its impact has not been widely felt due to multiple reasons such as poor policy formulation, lack of transparency, idle fund, corruption, etc. As such, bar 10 countries, including Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda, USFs are mostly inactive with millions of dollars lying idle while millions of people in Africa are left without any form of access to mobile telecoms. Since mobile telecoms are fast becoming transformative for people to access and participate in wide-ranging socio-economic activities such as agriculture, banking, education, health, job search and democracy, digital divide has far-reaching consequences.    

For example, a blog by Charles Clerck highlighted that in the recent terror attack in Nairobi, ambulances managed to get to the scene within 12 minutes thanks to Flare – a mobile ride-hailing app. Now let’s imagine a situation where the people in this location lacked access to mobile telecoms and, by extension, cannot access Flare, would those lives have been saved? Widespread access to mobile telecoms is thus a fundamental and first-level issue that needs to be tackled to scale the impact of technology in, for example, agriculture, banking, education, democracy, health, job search and business promotion.

This highlights the need for African policymakers (government, regulators, USFs managers, etc.) to urgently promote better USFs performance (alongside other relevant initiatives) to bring more people into the digital ecosystem and release digital inclusion from its captivity.

Any idea on how policymakers could improve USFs in Africa? Suggestions/contributions are welcomed from anyone in this community for the benefit of #OurDigitalFuture.

I propose a project/research that would engage with the wider stakeholders in the industry on how to improve USFs in Africa and bring more people into the digital society.

This post was edited on Feb 27, 2019 by Emmanuel Arakpogun

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Comments (2)

Osu says... Feb 11, 2019

Funny enough,  I was going to ask you the same question before I saw yours? What can we do?

Emmanuel Arakpogun says... Feb 11, 2019

Thanks for your comment. I am currently working on a paper that addresses some of the intractable problems associated with USFs in Africa as identified by, not least, 'Impediments to the implementation of universal service funds in Africa – A cross-country comparative analysis' (

I am happy to share the findings following the publication of the paper.  

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