By Mamadou Ndiaye
Universite Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD), where I got my undergraduate degree in mathematics, is one of the most respected institutions of higher education in West Africa, yet there are only about 1,000 professors serving a student body of more than 70,000. Other Senegalese universities have crowded classrooms, too, and the issue threatens to blunt the country’s efforts to improve its talent pool and accelerate economic growth.
Fortunately, Senegal’s minister of higher education, Mary Teuw Niane, is determined to do something about the situation. He is exploring the possibilities for using expanded online learning programs to not only better serve today’s university students, but to extend the benefits of higher education to tens of thousands of additional students. Minister Niane is a firm believer in the power of information technology to transform African economies and societies, and the outcomes for individuals.
Me, too. I grew up in a small town in rural Senegal where my parents farmed peanuts and maize. After receiving my undergraduate degree in the capital city of Dakar, I had the opportunity to continue my education in the United States. I worked for IBM for 12 years before returning to Africa three years ago with the goal of giving back to my native land. Now that I’m IBM’s country general manager in Senegal, I understand just how crucial technology will be for the future of Africa.
People talk about the opportunity for Africa to leapfrog developed economies by adopting the latest technologies and adapting them to the needs of local people and organizations. M-PESA, the mobile money service that is now sweeping Africa, is held up as a shining example of this phenomenon at work. But I believe that Africa has the opportunity to leapfrog in four crucial technology areas: not just via mobile enterprises, but cloud computing, social business and big data analytics.
These are the four essential technologies for the transformation of societies. Big data analytics is the source of insights that help us learn and make better decisions. Mobile and cloud computing are the technologies that give us access to those insights any time and anywhere. And social business technologies help us connect with one another and collaborate in ways that were not possible before. Unencumbered by out-of-date computing systems that are costly and rigid, African governments and businesses can make use of the newest light-weight but powerful technologies to reinvent themselves and improve people’s lives.
Think about higher education in Senegal. Cloud computing technologies can be tapped to provide educational resources, interactive learning experiences and contact with professors, all over a smartphone or inexpensive personal computer.
Transportation officials can use roadside video cameras to gather real-time data and use it to help relieve traffic congestion in Africa’s burgeoning cities. These systems will send alerts to drivers’ cell phones warning them of problems ahead.
Companies can engage with their employees via social networking to communicate strategies, get feedback and provide up-to-the-minute training. The McDonald’s restaurant chain, for instance, is now setting up such a system in South Africa.
And M-PESA is just scratching the surface of what can be accomplished with mobile technologies. Sasa Africa enables female craftspeople to market their goods anywhere in the world by using SMS messaging to operate online businesses.
We’re at the dawn of a new era in Africa. These leapfrog technologies will make it possible for African companies to operate more efficiently and nimbly; for governments to better serve their citizens; and for entrepreneurs to rapidly build businesses and markets. I’m grateful that I’m back in Africa so I can share in the effort and, ultimately, enjoy the satisfaction that success will bring.
This was first published on Smartplanet.com