Sub-Saharan Africa and Tanzania

Summary from The Impact of ICTs on Human Development in Tanzania, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, 2020.

Over the past three decades, the number of the poor in Africa has doubled, HIV/AIDS continues to threaten people’s lives, and many countries are affected by conflicts [1]. Africa is the only region that did not achieve most of the MDGs and is struggling to meet the 2030 SDGs. Many African nations have invested hugely in ICT infrastructure to respond to the challenge of the SDGs. Tanzania is ranked 162nd out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index, facing significant challenges to achieve progress toward development outcomes [2].

When considering the impact of ICT on human development, it is crucial to understand the concept of human development within the debates on international development practices. Since the end of WWII, the interpretation of international development has shifted from a macroeconomic approach towards a human and social agenda. Until 1990, development projects were only directed towards increasing economic growth and raising the employment rate. However, high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates did not diminish socio-economic issues. In 1980, Amartya Sen understood that the key to achieving human development was to expand the “basic capabilities” of people, such as health, knowledge, and skills [3]. These acquired capabilities, in turn, can be used for productive purposes and promote economic growth.

Building on Sen’s findings, Mahbub Ul Haq introduced the human development approach in 1989, demanding “people-centred development models,” emphasising the expansion of people’s opportunities and freedoms rather than economic growth [4]. He realised that human development could contribute to higher productivity, control population growth, and produce social and political stability. After introducing the concept to the UN, the international community agreed that “the expansion of output and wealth is only a means to development, [whereas] the end of development is the welfare of human beings” [5]. Until today, the human development approach is deeply rooted in the UN’s agenda and provides the basis for policy considerations.

Human Development Index (HDI)

Published by the UN in 1990, the first Human Development Report (HDR) defined human development as a “process of widening people’s choices and the level of their achieved well-being” [6]. The report introduced the Human Development Index (HDI) to monitor human progress by computing an overall idea of economic and social well-being in a country. The HDI measures three dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living [7]. Even though it does not reflect on poverty, inequalities, and human security, the HDI is commonly used to monitor the performance of individual countries in achieving the SDGs. The HDI uses the following indicators:

  • Life expectancy at birth (health) – This is the “number of years a new-born infant could expect to live”, or similarly the average age of individuals in the country [8].
  • Mean years of schooling (education) – This is the average years of education for adults aged 25 years and more [9].
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita (standard of living) – This describes the average distribution of income among the citizens of a nation [10].

Recently, there has been much discussion concerning human development in Sub-Saharan Africa. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises that Africa faces various challenges in pursuing the SDGs and encourages the international community to assist Africa in achieving these goals. As a result, Africa has received foreign aid payments, debt relief, and investments in ICT. The Tanzania Human Development Report (THDR) 2017 stresses that even though Tanzania has made significant progress evidenced by the improvement in the HDI, rates of multidimensional poverty remain high [11]. According to the report, the main factors leading to a decrease in multidimensional poverty between 2010 and 2015 are the increase in access to electricity and rates of ownership assets, including mobile phones, telephones, and computers.

ICT Infrastructure

On the global level, ICTs have shaped development around the world by accelerating economic growth and fostering social progress. Over the past decades, countries have increasingly invested in ICT infrastructure to achieve growth and enhance development. By reducing geographical boundaries, encouraging international trade, and spreading knowledge, ICTs provide significant benefits for economic growth [12]. The role of ICT as both medium and platform for cultural and economic exchange has become part of the daily life of millions of people around the world [13]. Though more than half of the world’s population has access to ICT, most of this activity takes place in the global North. According to Doong and Ho, the development of ICT is a critical indicator of an increase in the global digital divide, leaving the global South behind [14]. International Organisations aim to decrease this gap by encouraging ICT investments in developing countries.

Since 1995, many African countries have started to consistently invest in ICT to respond to the demands of international development organisations. Advocates suggest that ICT will contribute significantly to social and economic development in Africa. Ponelis and Holmner argue that ICT helps to advance the African continent socially and economically by providing business practitioners and government officials with facts and ideas to increase the quality of life [15]. Opponents argue that developing countries have little of the supporting infrastructure that is necessary to benefit from the productive capacity of ICT [16]. As a result, the United Nations task force has advised African governments to prioritise the expansion of ICT infrastructure as a significant part of their poverty alleviation and human development strategies [17]. According to [18], ICT infrastructure can be divided into three major dimensions:

  • Main telephone lines – This is measured by the number of fixed-telephone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (ITU).
  • Mobile phones – This is measured by mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (ITU).
  • Internet – This is measured by the percentage of the population using the internet (ITU).

Political Background

In 1964, The United Republic of Tanzania formed out of the union of two sovereign states, namely Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Since independence from British colonial rule in 1961, human development has been central to Tanzania’s development process. Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president, identified poverty and poor health as the primary development challenges facing the country. He further understood that development and freedom are intricately linked and agreed that policies should be directed towards people-centred development to improve health, education, and the standard of living [19].

The choice of Tanzania as an empirical setting is motivated by the following: Despite policies targeting human development, the percentage of the population living below the poverty line of $1.90 a day is higher than the average in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2011, 49.1% of the population in Tanzania lived at $1.90 a day, whereas the average in Sub-Saharan Africa was at 45.1% [20]. As a result, Tanzania belongs to the category of countries with low levels of human development, with an HDI of 0.528 in 2018 [21]. Therefore, measures to foster human development have not yet succeeded. Even though Tanzania is willing to act within the human development approach, it is vital to further understand the critical drivers for human development to offer guidance to policymakers.

Today, Tanzania’s current National Five-Year Development Plan 2016/17-2020/21 acknowledges linkages between economic growth and human development and focuses on industrialisation to achieve economic progress and human development. The government aims to improve Tanzania’s HDI score by 0.05 by 2025/26 [11]. By acknowledging the positive relationship between technology, economic growth, and human development, the government aims to increase access to electricity and ICT infrastructure, to achieve higher levels of human development.

Health Care

Several studies explore the direct and indirect impact of the Internet on health care in Africa. Alzaid et al. investigate the direct impact of knowledge creation on the health and well-being of society. After using a quantitative research approach, they find a positive relationship between the Internet and life expectancy at birth, pointing to the availability of information that improves the quality of health care [22]. Edoh et al. provide a more specific explanation for the positive impact of the Internet on health in West Africa. They find that people use the Internet to inform themselves about diseases and treatment methods and can thus react more appropriately to any illness [23].


The literature establishes a positive direct and indirect effect of ICTs on education. After examining the impact of the adoption of ICTs on quality and years of education in Africa, Barakabitze et al. highlight a positive relationship between ICTs and education [24]. Similarly, Livingstone stresses the advantages of ICTs for education by pointing to its provision of information and collaborative learning resources [25]. According to Cristia et al., ICTs have the potential to significantly improve low-quality instructional time in developing countries by making new teaching methods accessible [26]. Thus, ICTs exert a positive effect on education.

Other studies stress the positive indirect impact of ICTs on education by reducing the level of poverty. Urquhart et al. find that by enabling access to information and knowledge as well as providing networks of contacts, ICT networks have the potential to reduce the level of poverty in a country [27]. By fostering social capital development, including human and intellectual capital, ICTs help to reduce poverty. According to Iqbal, there is a high correlation between the level of poverty and education status. Poorer households usually hold less educated people, while well-off people can afford education more easily [28]. Similarly, Wedgwood argues that access to education is biased towards urban areas in Tanzania, as people in rural areas are more impoverished than those in urban areas and, therefore, cannot afford secondary schooling [29].

Standard of living

ICTs can improve the standard of living directly by exerting a positive effect on GDP per capita. Several scholars find a significant positive relationship between ICTs and economic growth, suggesting that an increase in the use of ICTs boosts GDP. Das et al. investigate the impact of ICT development on economic growth and find that ICT diffusion positively affects economic growth [30]. Similarly, Gelvanovska et al. explain that by driving international trade, foreign direct investment (FDI) decisions and agricultural productivity, the Internet can successfully contribute to GDP growth [31].

Further, the main factor through which ICTs can indirectly exert a positive effect on GDP per capita is by increasing labour productivity. Faha and Vaumi investigate the relationship between ICT and labour productivity in Cameroon and find that investment in ICT-capital has a positive and significant impact on labour productivity [32]. Basant et al. explain this positive relationship by pointing to the fact that ICTs reduce hierarchy within firms, increase skills and improve management practices [33]. An increase in labour productivity due to an increase in skills and knowledge resulting from ICTs decreases input costs and uses factors of production more efficiently, therefore triggering economic development and growth [34].

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones exert the most compelling impact on all three components of human development. Telephone landlines, on the other hand, do not have any impact on human development in Tanzania as they are simply not available. Further, the Internet only has some weak impacts on human development, due to the lack of electricity in many areas, which makes Internet usage difficult. Thus, people invest predominantly in mobile phones, as they do not require much electricity and are most beneficial for increasing their quality of life.


[1] World Bank (2005) ‘Meeting the Challenge of Africa’s Development: A World Bank Group Action Plan’

[2] Farrell, G., Isaacs, S. and Trucano, M. (2007) ‘Survey of ICT and Education in Africa’, (Volume 2): 53 Country Reports. Washington, DC: infoDev / World Bank

[3] Sen, A. K. (1980) ‘Equality of What?’, in: S. McMurrin (ed.) Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 194-220

[4] Haq, Mahbub ul. (1995) Reflections on Human Development. New York: OxfordUniversity Press

[5] Nayak, P. (2010) Growth and Human Development in North East India. 1st edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press

[6] UNDP (1990) Human Development Report 1990. Oxford: Oxford University Press

[7] UNDP (2015) Training Material for Producing Human Development Reports

[8] UNDP (2010) Human Development Report 2010. The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development. UNDP: New York

[9] UNDP (2019) Human Development Index (HDI)

[10] UNDP (2003) Human development Index Reveals Development Crises. New York: Oxford University Press

[11] UNDP (2017) Tanzania Human Development Report 2017 – Social Policy in the Context of Economic Transformation. Dar es Salaam: Economic and Social Research Foundation

[12] Freeman, I. and Hasnaoui, A. (2010) ‘The meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility: The Vision of Four Nations’, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 100, no. 3, pp. 419-443

[13] Thompson, M. (2007) ‘ICT and development studies: towards development 2.0’, Working Paper Series 27/2007, Brighton: DSA Annual Conference

[14] Doong, S. H. and Ho, S. (2012) ‘The impact of ICT development on the global digital divide’, Electronic Commerce Research and Application, vol. 11, no.5, pp. 518-533

[15] Ponelis, S. R. and Holmner, M. A. (2015) ‘ICT in Africa: Building a Better Life for All’, Information Technology for Development, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 163-177

[16] Bankole, F. O. and Mimbi, L. (2015) ‘ICT and Health System Performance in Africa: A Multi-Method Approach’, 26th Australasian Conference on Information Systems, Adelaide

[17] Bollou, F. (2006) ‘ICT Infrastructure Expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Analysis of Six West African Countries from 1995 to 2002’, Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, vol. 26, no. 5, pp. 1-16

[18] Bankole, F. O. and Brown, I. T. J. (2011) ‘The Impact of ICT Infrastructure on Human Development: An Analysis of ICT-Use in SADC Countries’, Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries, Kathmandu, Nepal

[19] Nyerere, J. K. (1973) Freedom and Development. Dar es Salaam: Oxford University Press

[20] World Bank (2019) World Development Indicators

[21] UNDP (2019) Human Development Index (HDI)

[22] Alzaid, A. et al. (2014) ‘Examining the Relationship between the Internet and Life Expectancy’, Journal of Internet and e-Business Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 1-11

[23] Edoh, T. et al. (2017) ‘Impact of Internet on Diseases Awareness and Patient Empowerment – A Study in Benin (West Africa)’, Fourth International Conference on Advances in Biomedical Engineering (ICABME), no. 4, pp. 1-4

[24] Barakabitze, A. A. et al. (2019) ‘Transforming African Education Systems in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Using ICTs: Challenges and Opportunities’, Education Research International, vol. 2019, no. 6946809, pp. 1-29

[25] Livingstone, S. (2012) ‘Critical reflections on the benefits of ICT in education’, Oxford Review of Education, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 9-24

[26] Cristia, J.P. et al. (2005) Does ICT Increase Years of Education? Evidence from Peru, Washington, D.C.: Inter-American Development Bank

[27] Urquhart, C., Liyanage, S., Kah, M. (2008) ‘ICTs and poverty reduction: a social capital and knowledge perspective’, Journal of Information Technology, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 203-

[28] Iqbal, F. (2006) Sustaining Gains in Poverty Reduction and Human Development in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank

[29] Wedgwood, R. (2005) ‘Education and Poverty Reduction in Tanzania’, Working paper no. 9. Oxford: UKFIET International Conference on Education and Development

[30] Das A., Khan S., Chowdhury M. (2016) ‘Effects of ICT Development on Economic Growth in Emerging Asian Countries’, in: Dey B., Sorour K., Filieri R. (eds) ICTs in Developing Countries. Palgrave Macmillan, London

[31] Gelvanovska, N., Rogy, M. and Rossotto, C. M. (2014) Broadband Networks in the Middle East and North Africa: Accelerating High-Speed Internet Access. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank

[32] Faha, C. P. C. and Vaumi, A. T. (2015) ‘ICT for the Development of Labour Productivity in Cameroon’, The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, vol. 69, no. 4, pp. 1-14

[33] Basant, R., Commander, S., Harrison, R. and Menezes-Filho, N. (2006) ‘ICT Adoption and Productivity in Developing Countries: New Firm Level Evidence from Brazil and India’, IZA Discussion Papers No. 2294. Bonn: Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA)

[34] Korkmaz, S. and Korkmaz, O. (2017) ‘The Relationship between Labour Productivity and Economic Growth in OECD Countries’, International Journal of Economics and Finance, vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 71-76