The Rural-Urban Digital Divide

Christine Adero Oct. 14, 2021

How can we support digital transformation? Bridging the rural-urban digital divide has enormous potential to boost sustainable growth in rural areas and trigger innovation.

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Through closing the rural-urban gap we can address structural problems that characterise poverty in rural communities.

Accelerating rural innovation to overcome the digital divide between rural and urban areas

In recent years, Uganda as a country is quickly acquiring both the infrastructure and the human resources to support increased access to the internet, computers, smartphones and other information and communication technologies. However, the penetration of mobile phone use and internet usage remains relatively low as statistics show with an estimated 49% of the population having access to mobile phones and 14% accessing the internet. This is only a drop in the ocean considering that the current population in Uganda stands at 44.27 million people. This representation of users is mostly populated in urban and peri-urban areas in the country, while people in rural areas contribute a far less percentage to the numbers hence causing a rural-urban digital divide.

Why does the rural-urban digital gap persist?

The rural-urban digital divide persists for a variety of social and economic reasons such as;

  • Geographical limitations where those in rural areas are distant from knowledge sources, technology infrastructure, investors, opportunities, customers, etc. that would have otherwise facilitated innovation;
  • Low economic status which limits people in rural areas from accessing technology and internet connectivity, both of which are essential for innovation;
  • Lower levels of education as well as low digital literacy among most of the rural population;
  • Lack of desire to use technology;
  • Limited access to technology, among many other barriers.

We all have a role to play

Digital transformation in rural areas is a journey that must be undertaken by all - it requires enhancing the human and social capital and amplifying knowledge and innovation systems. There is a need to involve policy makers, relevant managing authorities, IT departments and both private & public sector initiatives, to empower people in rural communities to embrace technology as a way to transform their lives and communities. Everyone has a role to play in bridging the digital divide between rural and urban areas.

Bridging the digital gap

As we build and disseminate technology, it is crucial for us to develop appropriate technology for people in rural areas. These should be built on the basis that they are simple, low cost, and require fewer resources to operate for the intended purpose. For instance, as banks advance to digital banking through mobile phone applications and internet banking, they have also provided the alternative use of USSD-codes which do not require a smartphone or lead to expensive internet costs when accessing banking services.

Another example is the low cost Soil moisture sensor that can be used by farmers in rural areas to accurately measure and predict soil humidity in their fields, so as to allow farmers to prepare their water needs and prepare their irrigation schedules optimally and efficiently. It does not require advanced tech knowledge to operate.

One tip is to opt for simple hardware based technology instead of software based technology as it will be easier for users in rural areas to adapt to.

How we can support digital transformation

In conclusion, for us to bridge the rural-urban digital divide, we need to first identify and address the fundamental challenges people in rural areas face in accessing technology, and build simple cost-effective technical solutions that promote more inclusive growth from the digital revolution regardless of geographical location. We should not deny people in rural areas the opportunity to use technology to transform their lives and be empowered.