Africa and the First Computers: Left Behind? No!

Africa’s technological narrative often paints a picture of a continent left behind, particularly in the early days of computers. When it comes to the early days of computers, the assumption frequently rests on the misconception that Africa was left in the dust as the world embraced this revolutionary technology. However, a closer look reveals a more nuanced reality, one that challenges this inaccurate and misleading view.

While the exact year and location of the first computer in Africa remain open for further research, available evidence suggests that by the early 1960s, these powerful machines were making their way into various African nations. South Africa, in 1952, witnessed the arrival of a modern “electronic tabulator,” marking the continent’s initial encounter with computer technology. This early introduction was followed by other countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ghana, and Senegal, all embracing computers primarily for administrative tasks like payroll preparation, budget processing and accounting.

CountryYearPotential InstitutionsNotes/Source
South Africa1952GovernmentThe government purchased a modern “electronic tabulator” (IBM 407 Accounting Machine) from IBM in 1952, marking the arrival of the first computer in the country. This also coincided with the establishment of IBM South Africa. (South Africa’s first computers, 2015)
Kenya1961Government TreasuryIn early 1960s, the National Treasury of Kenya bought a mainframe computer for processing of payroll for government employees (Walubengo, 2013). Most probably an IBM (UNIDO, n.d).
Zimbabwe1961Government TreasuryInstalled an ICL 1202 machine in the Government Treasury Department in 1961. (UNIDO, n.d)
Egypt1962Government office(potential)The first computers were potentially introduced in Egypt in 1962, with the first university computer installed at the University of Alexandria in 1964. However, there might be a discrepancy, as universities often embrace technology earlier than government offices. (Lind, 2006)
Ghana1962Unknown (potential)The first computer in Ghana was potentially introduced in 1963. However, another source suggests the existing computer was upgraded to full capacity in 1963-64, implying a potentially earlier introduction. (Policy Issues In Microcomputer Applications For Developing Countries, 1992)
Table 1: Potential Early Computer Introductions in Africa. Contact ABNT to get the data for remaining African countries.

Universities also played a significant role in the early adoption of computers, with the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa being the first to install one in 1960 followed by the University of Alexandria in Egypt in 1964. It’s crucial to remember that the story of computers in Africa extends far beyond mere dates and institutions. It’s a narrative of potential and promise, of a continent taking its first steps towards a transformed future. These early computers, though primitive by today’s standards, laid the foundation for the digital revolution that Africa is experiencing today, though not satisfactory in all measures!

It’s also important to acknowledge the global context of this early computing era. While the narrative often focuses on Western industrialized nations as pioneers in computing, it’s essential to acknowledge that the first computers arrived in many countries worldwide during the same period. The early 1960s witnessed the introduction of computers in a multitude of developing nations. In Asia, countries like the Philippines (1960) and Thailand (1963) embraced this new technology, as did several Latin American nations such as Argentina (1961-62) and Peru (1962). This wave of early adoption underscores that Africa was not uniquely isolated from the technological advancements of the time.

Africa’s Present-Day Digital Landscape

While significant progress has undoubtedly been made, Africa’s digital development is largely out of pace.

Yes, Africa’s digital landscape has seen significant advancements in recent years, driven largely by the widespread adoption of mobile technology. This has led to increased internet penetration and a surge in digital innovation and entrepreneurship across the continent.

One notable example of digital transformation in Africa is the mobile money revolution. Services like M-PESA in Kenya have transformed the way people access financial services, especially in rural and underserved areas. Mobile money has not only provided a convenient way to transfer money but has also facilitated access to credit, savings, and insurance services for millions of Africans.

Another area of rapid growth is the use of digital platforms for e-commerce. Companies like Jumia, often referred to as the “Amazon of Africa,” have capitalized on the continent’s growing internet penetration to create thriving online marketplaces. These platforms have not only expanded access to goods and services but have also created employment opportunities and boosted economic growth.

In the education sector, digital technologies are revolutionizing learning and skill development. Initiatives like eLearning Africa are leveraging online platforms to provide quality education to students across the continent, regardless of their location. Online courses and digital learning materials are helping to bridge the education gap and empower individuals with valuable skills for the digital age.

Africa is also witnessing a rise in tech hubs and innovation ecosystems. Countries like Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya have emerged as hubs for tech startups, attracting investment and talent from around the world. These hubs are not only driving innovation but are also creating a conducive environment for collaboration and knowledge sharing among entrepreneurs and innovators.

Despite these advancements, challenges remain stubbornly. Access to affordable internet and digital skills training are still limited in many parts of Africa, particularly in rural areas. Additionally, there is a need for supportive policy frameworks that remove barriers and foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the digital space. The digital divide persists between different regions and socioeconomic groups. Several African nations still rank low in the global digital development indexes, highlighting the ongoing need to address infrastructural deficits, skills gaps, and policy frameworks that hinder broader access to technology.

To fully harness the power of digital technologies, Africa must prioritize strategic investments in infrastructure, digital literacy programs, digital capacity development, and policies that promote accelerated digital development. Supporting local innovation ecosystems and cultivating a globally competitive tech workforce are also critical and must be prioritized. By strategically addressing these areas, African nations can accelerate their digital transformation and unlock new opportunities for economic growth and social progress. This is particularly crucial for the smooth and faster implementation of strategic continental programs like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The AfCFTA aims to create a single market for goods and services across Africa, enhancing economic integration and boosting intra-African trade (AfCFTA, 2024). Digital technologies play a crucial role in this endeavor, facilitating trade agreements, streamlining customs processes, and providing platforms for businesses to connect and collaborate. Embracing digital development as a key pillar of continental and national developmental plans is equally important as our forefathers cleverly introduced the first computers in 1960s. As it is vividly demonstrated by some Asian countries, like Vietnam, leveraging digital technologies has immense potential to improve Africa’s competitiveness, and accelerate the implementation of the AfCFTA and other continental initiatives, paving the way for sustainable and inclusive socioeconomic growth and development in the continent.


The history of early computers in Africa serves as a compelling reminder of the continent’s longstanding engagement with technology. Despite narratives that often frame Africa as a mere beneficiary of innovation, a deeper look into the past reveals a story of participation and potential.

As Africa continues its digital transformation journey, it is crucial to reflect on how the continent can further accelerate its progress. How can individuals, businesses, and governments collaborate to bridge the digital divide and ensure inclusive development? How can Africa leverage its digital potential to drive sustainable economic growth and social progress?

These questions are not only for policymakers, academicians, and industry leaders but for all Africans to reflect on them. By fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, determination and inclusion, Africa can truly harness the power of digital technologies for the benefit of all its citizens. If we act now and diligently work together, we can shape a brighter digital future where technology serves as an enabler for economic empowerment, social progress, and ultimately for the transformation of Africa into a globally competitive, successful and strong continent – the Africa we want!


Related posts Bridging the digital divide for inclusive & sustainable development | From Dial-Up to Disruption: Africa’s Digital Story

FYT | 01.03.2024

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