Somalia Strives for Digital Inclusion: New Study Unveils Challenges and Opportunities

Despite laudable success in increasing penetration of access to digital opportunities in developing countries in Africa, digital exclusion remains the big rotting elephant in the room. In this article, we explore the current state of digital inclusion in Somalia and highlight steps required to address it – drawing insights from a recent study we carried out for the national government.

Infrastructure Gaps:

Somalia’s digital landscape is driven by market forces, with a technology-neutral licensing framework. While this fosters competition, the lack of government intervention in expanding infrastructure to underserved areas and population segments creates a significant barrier for the affected groups. The absence of a national fibre backbone leads to reliance on microwave line of site technology with all its limitations: this makes it impossible to fully exploit the opportunity of international connectivity which has improved with submarine cable landing stations. The last-mile connections within Somalia also remain a challenge.

E-Government – Potential and Hurdles:

The government’s efforts to provide e-government services hold promise for improved efficiency and accessibility. However, the report identifies low adoption rates due to limited awareness, accessibility issues, and a lack of trust in digital platforms. These challenges persist despite existing policies like the National Communications Law and the National ICT Policy and Strategy.

Digital Inclusion:

Although Somalia has seen reductions in the cost of mobile Internet, computer penetration remains very low, with nearly 85% of the population having no access to modern digital services. Protracted displacement, as well as widespread illiteracy and poverty, are among the main challenges. Furthermore, low education levels and digital literacy hinder the ability to effectively utilize digital tools and seize digital opportunities. All these impact vulnerable groups (women, rural areas, youth, people with disabilities, the aged, and internally displaced people) much more than the rest of the population. The report emphasizes the need for initiatives that enhance digital literacy and skills development, acknowledging existing challenges in access to training programs and resources.

Bridging the Gender Gap:

Similar to many African nations, Somalia faces persistent gender disparities in digital inclusion. Cultural norms, limited access to education for women, and underrepresentation in the tech sector create barriers to women’s participation in the digital world.

The Road Ahead – Collaboration is Key

The report concludes with recommendations focused on bridging the digital divide. These include investments in infrastructure development, targeted policies to address specific barriers faced by different demographics, and fostering collaboration between stakeholders like the government, private sector, and civil society organizations. Through such collaboration, Somalia can unlock the transformative potential of digital technologies for all its citizens.