KEMMCOM Media and Communications

The Digital Literacy Landscape in East Africa

Published on: Mar 5, 2024 at 10:26

In this article, we present our findings in the digital literacy landscape of East Africa, specifically focusing on Somalia, South Sudan, and Eritrea. Our findings have allowed us to compile valuable insights into the education systems, curricula, prominent languages, and political contexts of these countries. We explore the digital literacy landscapes of Somalia, South Sudan, and Eritrea, shedding light on the unique characteristics and challenges faced by each nation in East Africa.

In the realm of education and digital literacy, partnerships are the foundation of success, with various stakeholders playing vital roles. Within this context, Somalia’s efforts to equip its population with essential digital skills and knowledge have been bolstered by collaborative initiatives. Telecom service providers have emerged as key partners, leveraging their infrastructure to facilitate digital education programs. E-learning organisations have extended the reach of these initiatives, enabling access to remote areas. Family-focused organisations have also played a pivotal role, educating parents about online safety. Additionally, partnerships with entities such as the Internet Society have provided invaluable expertise in internet standards and security.

Somalia’s social media landscape presents both opportunities and challenges. Misinformation exacerbates political, social, and economic instability, underscoring the need for comprehensive strategies to combat its spread. Social media usage among minors brings benefits like connectivity but also raises concerns about exposure to harmful content and online exploitation.

While Somalia has made strides in regulating social media, collaboration among stakeholders is essential to promote digital literacy effectively. A social media regulatory body could potentially play a role in developing and implementing digital literacy programs in partnership with educational institutions and technology companies.

The rapid growth of mobile money services is reshaping financial transactions, making them more accessible and convenient. However, with this growth comes the increased risk of fraud and scams. Digital literacy plays a crucial role in mitigating these risks. Educating individuals about the potential dangers, teaching them to recognise and avoid scams, and promoting secure online practices are essential for safeguarding users’ financial well-being. By fostering digital literacy, we empower individuals to make informed decisions, protect their personal information, and navigate the digital landscape safely. As mobile money services continue to expand, it becomes imperative to prioritize digital literacy initiatives to ensure that individuals can fully enjoy the benefits while minimizing the risks associated with fraud and scams.

South Sudan

South Sudan, situated in eastern Central Africa, is a landlocked country known for its vast oil reserves and a population of approximately 11,088,796 as of 2023, with Juba serving as both its capital and largest city. Having gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, South Sudan stands as the most recent sovereign state to attain widespread recognition as of 2024. The nation has a diverse population, primarily comprising individuals adhering to Christian beliefs or traditional African religions, with prominent ethnic groups including the Dinka, Nuer, Zande, Bari, Shilluk, Anywa, and a small Arab population.

The education system in South Sudan, overseen by the Ministry of General Education and Instruction (MOGEI), follows a structure similar to that of the Republic of Sudan. It spans eight years of primary education, followed by four years of secondary education and four years of university instruction. English serves as the primary language of instruction across all levels, setting it apart from Sudan, where Arabic holds sway.

South Sudan’s curriculum framework aims to cultivate responsible citizens, lifelong learners, creative individuals, and environmentally conscious beings. The integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) elements into the curriculum seeks to equip learners with essential digital skills and foster their effective use. Although challenges such as limited access to ICT facilities persist, efforts are underway to bridge these gaps and ensure equitable access to digital resources and opportunities.

Telecommunications infrastructure in South Sudan has faced significant challenges due to years of civil conflict. However, progress has been made since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, with expanded mobile phone coverage and internet accessibility in urban areas. Despite these advancements, transportation infrastructure remains underdeveloped, posing obstacles to economic growth and connectivity within the country.

A number of programmes have been launched with the goal of advancing digital literacy and skill development. Digital equity organisations like the Alliance for Digital Equity (A4DE-SS) push for equal access to training and resources. Furthermore, programs such as the Digital and Innovations Skills Hub (DISH) offer virtual classes aimed at improving job readiness and tackling the obstacles brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak.

While social media offers numerous benefits, including community connections, information sharing, and civic engagement, challenges such as limited internet access, digital literacy gaps, and misinformation persist. By addressing these challenges and harnessing the potential of digital technologies, South Sudan can pave the way for inclusive growth, empowerment, and sustainable development in the digital age.

Eritrea, a country located in the Horn of Africa, has nine different ethnic groups and languages that make up its rich cultural mosaic. The predominant language, Tigrinya, is a reflection of the rich linguistic heritage of the nation. Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index for 2022 places Eritrea, a unitary one-party presidential republic, among the least free countries. Eritrea faces challenges related to press freedom.

Major urban centres like Asmara, Massawa, and Keren dot the Eritrean landscape, each known with its own historical significance and architectural charm. Asmara, renowned for its Italian colonial architecture, holds the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage site. Meanwhile, Massawa’s status as a historical port city adds vibrancy to Eritrea’s cultural fabric.

Education in Eritrea is structured across five tiers, ranging from pre-primary to post-secondary levels. The country has approximately 824 schools catering to nearly 1,270,000 students. Notable institutions include the University of Asmara and the Eritrea Institute of Technology, pivotal in fostering higher education in science, engineering, and education. Despite challenges such as high student-teacher ratios and barriers to access, Eritrea has made significant strides in promoting literacy, with an adult literacy rate of 76.6%.

Efforts to integrate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into Eritrea’s academic landscape underscore a commitment to modernisation and progress. The government’s investment in a national fibre optic network in 2018 aimed to bolster internet infrastructure and accessibility, although challenges persist, particularly in rural areas.

Initiatives like the Danish-Eritrean Network (DEN) have played a pivotal role in supporting Eritrea’s digital education landscape. Through partnerships with local institutions, DEN has supplied computers and network infrastructure, fostering technological advancement and equitable access to resources across the country.

In the realm of social media, Eritrea’s online presence has steadily grown, with platforms like Facebook and Instagram gaining traction among its population. However, government restrictions and occasional internet censorship pose challenges to online freedom and expression.

While digital literacy presents great opportunities for Eritrea, including improved access to information and economic empowerment, it also grapples with various hurdles. Limited technology access, digital literacy gaps, and government restrictions are among the key challenges impeding progress in this domain.

In navigating these obstacles, Eritrea stands at a critical juncture, poised to harness the transformative potential of digital literacy while confronting the complexities of a rapidly evolving digital landscape. As efforts continue to bridge the digital divide and foster digital inclusion, Eritrea’s journey towards a digitally empowered future remains a work in progress, characterised by resilience, innovation, and a steadfast commitment to progress.