Rampant software piracy and lack of awareness of the benefits of using open-source software have contributed to the slow uptake of software services in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Software piracy in Africa averages at about 80 percent. Microsoft, whose products are widely used on the continent, has been at the forefront of combatting piracy, but open-source experts say the problem has affected them too.
When people can access cheap pirated software, they do not invest in customization of open-source software, and this "affects the growth of open-source-based businesses and services," said Evans Ikua, chairman of the Linux Professional Association in Kenya.
The entry of fiber-optic cables connecting Eastern and Southern Africa has led to an increase in PC and Internet users because prices have dropped. However, this has not led to increased uptake of open-source solutions by small and medium enterprises largely because pirated software is easily available.
According to research conducted by IDC and the Business Software Alliance, software piracy in East and Southern Africa remains among the highest worldwide, with an average of 83 percent.
"Due to the exponential growth of PC markets in emerging economies like Botswana, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe, we are seeing the worldwide piracy rate rise," said Dale Waterman, BSA co-chairman, Middle East and Africa. "This rise of unlicensed software in East and Southern Africa's markets limits local technology innovation, job creation and economic growth through tax revenues."
The results of the IDC and BSA research, released this week, reveal that PC software piracy rates in Botswana, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe averaged 83 percent last year, and the total commercial value of unlicensed software in the four countries totaled US$83 million in 2009. The value of stolen software in Kenya alone accounted for $66 million last year.
The annual study found that Kenya's software piracy rates dropped by a percentage point from 80 percent to 79 percent, while in Zambia and Zimbabwe, piracy rates stayed at 82 percent and both countries remain among the top 25 economies with the highest piracy rates. With a piracy rate of 92 percent, Zimbabwe is second to Georgia for the highest piracy rate in the world.
Legislation has been cited as one of the main ways to discourage piracy, but raising awareness and engaging children in schools has been considered as one of the ways to encourage people to stop piracy.
"Countries like Ivory Coast have achieved a level of success by engaging children who are still in schools about open-source options; when the students graduate and start their businesses, they make proper choices," said Nico Elema, a council member at the Free and Open Source Software Foundation for Africa.
Microsoft has been working with local governments and schools to raise awareness on software piracy but insists more steps need to be taken.
"We see some signs that the technology industry's intensified anti-piracy education activities and enforcement actions in collaboration with local governments and law enforcement agencies are making a difference," said Andrew Waititu, license compliance manager for Microsoft East & Southern Africa.