Nearly all of Sub–Saharan Africa is extremely poor. While a few countries in Asia, Latin America and Oceania are comparably poor, no other region has as many poor people and undeveloped countries. Not surprisingly, in no part of the world is the penetration of telecommunications technology so low. Thus, Africa would not seem to be an area where substantial improvements in telephone service would be likely until more fundamental economic problems are solved. Yet, beginning in 1995, a few African countries began to reform the telecommunications industry, leading to seemingly miraculous results. The purpose of this paper is to explore how and why these changes took place.
The paper documents the path of reform, its political sources, and its consequences for six African countries: Cote D?Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda. These countries are diverse in institutional structure, political stability, cultural heritage, and the nature and success of their reform, although all have improved, especially in radio telephony.
This essay is based on detailed case studies undertaken by a team of economists that were assembled by the World Bank, and is intended to fill a gap between analytic narratives of a specific case and regression analyses that seek to explain performance or reform (few seek to explain both simultaneously) across a large sample of countries based on relatively crude measures of the institutional environment. Our approach, also an analytic narrative, is complementary to the others in that it allows cross–country comparisons while emphasizing the nuances of the political and institutional factors surrounding reform.