By Victor Mbarika and Peter Meso (Editors-in-Chief, AJIS)
Culled from the editorial of the inaugural issue of the African Journal of Information Systems.
Going to primary and secondary schools in Sub-Saharan Africa, we were taught common songs such as “London Bridge is Falling Down.” As kids we thoroughly enjoyed the songs but never knew or even cared to understand why we were singing those songs about a bridge thousands of miles away from us and in a country we (at the time) never knew anything about. Neither did we ever think about going to visit the famous London Bridge. Of course, our primary and secondary schools teachers had little choice but to teach these songs as they were part of the books used for our classes, most of which were published in England or some other Western nation.
These great teachers at the time (and even today) had little or no incentive to write books (and songs) about the great rivers and local bridges in our countries, which we could relate to. Unfortunately, even today, these long time experiences have translated to most African universities depending almost entirely on research published in Western journals and because of the same reasons - viz lack of resources and incentives to publish work specifically focused on the realities of countries within the African region.
The purpose of this editorial is not to point fingers at any particular entity or play the blame game that is reminiscent of news media outlets. However, we want to address the issue of Africa creating its own identity in terms of developing a knowledge base pertaining to Information and Communication Technologies in general and select information systems in particular. Yes, we do understand there is no common African identity but there are some socio-economic and political characteristics common to most African countries. These characteristics have affected the way Africa acquires and adopts ICTs.
Without a doubt there has been a plethora of publications that have shown that the growth of ICTs in Africa has been exponential. In fact, wireless phone growth rates in Africa are the highest of all regions of the world. Similarly, growth of other ICTs such as computers and related accessories has been exponential. However, growth in related applications of these ICTs has been slow. For example, the diffusion of ICT applications such as those used for distance learning (Tele-Education) or such as those used for delivery of healthcare at a distance (Tele-Medicine) has been marginal. Notwithstanding, almost all economic sectors in Africa have adopted some level of ICT services and some of the (financially) richest people in the continent have built their wealth through ICTs.
ICT research with focus on Africa has been traditionally almost nonexistent in mainstream ICT publications. About three years ago, in the Journal of the Association of Information Systems (JAIS), Mbarika et al. (2005) reveal an acute dearth of ICT articles with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the many reasons that can be given for this dilemma, the fact remains that theory-driven ICT articles on Africa are rare. Hence, many business owners and policy makers in Africa have fallen to the grave error of acquiring new “high-tech” technologies for the sake of keeping up with the “West” without addressing the questions: “Which specific technologies do we need?” and “What do we need these technologies for?” For instance, maintenance of these technologies in Africa is a huge problem. Hence, many acquire computers and mobile phones that become unusable after the first or second breakdown. Research is needed in order to avoid such trends and to inform technology stakeholders in Africa on best practices for transfer, adoption and use of ICTs.
African scholars, and scholars interested in research focused on Africa, need to step up and help define the direction of ICT research within the context of Africa while placing it within the broader context of global ICT research. In launching AJIS, it is our earnest hope this will be an avenue for researchers of Africa-related ICT to publish their work and have such work gain visibility throughout the IS research community. We are also open to publishing articles based on case studies of ICTs in Africa, as well as thought provoking research notes or issues and opinions.
This is the inaugural volume of the AJIS. It comprises of two issues, with this being the first. We have selected five relevant and interesting articles for this issue. Three of these articles are full length empirical research articles, one is a case and one is a teaching note. The three research articles reflect diversity in topic, research-method and country-studied concerning ICTs in Africa. They serve as a good beginning in our long journey to document empirical, critical and conceptual contributions on ICT issues and the advancement of ICTs within the context of Africa.