Information Technologies Transforming Africa
Africa is in the midst of an Internet revolution that is set only to accelerate. The continent is one of the last places to experience the information technology revolution that has swept the world in the past two decades.
Africa has been at a disadvantage for several reasons, the most basic of which has been the lack of bandwidth capacity available from the undersea cables that connect other continents to the Internet. A map showing the world’s undersea cable links says it all: the majority of traffic goes between Europe and the United States.
But this is changing: a glance at recent developments with the launching of the Seacom, EASSY, Mainone and other cables shows a continent becoming better connected by the year. This is increasing the continent’s Internet capacity and bandwidth.
These communications links will revolutionize the type and scale of innovation that can happen in Africa.
Between 2011 and 2015, seven out of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are projected to be in sub-saharan Africa. The conditions are ripe to grow African Internet businesses.
According to the World Bank, “Kenya has put in place the secondfastest broadband on the continent (after Ghana), which has reduced the wholesale Internet capacity prices by over 90% and increased Internet penetration from 3% to 37% of the population in the past decade. Today, about 90% of Kenyan adults have or have the use of a mobile phone.”
Identifying the elements that are making this information technology innovation culture flourish came under analysis in a post on the Afrinnovator website. Afrinnovator is dedicated to “telling the stories of African startups, African innovation, African made technology, African tech entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs.”
While it is well known that new infrastructure, better governance, new policies, and new services such as mobile phones and mobile money have made a big difference in shifting perceptions of Africa from despair to optimism, Afrinnovator found that there were other key ingredients in this innovation renaissance.
Afrinnovator argues that four elements have come together to change circumstances for innovators on the continent: education, mentoring and incubators, funding, and showcase events.
Afrinnovator found that education was critical to the quality of emerging technological innovations. Information and communication technology (ICT) education has moved from just computer science courses to a vast array of options. For mentoring and incubators, Afrinnovator found that hubs and incubators are providing places for young educated people to go to and get down to work.
Examples include ihub, mlab East Africa, cchub (Co-creation Hub Nigeria), Lusaka, Zambia’s Bongohive, ilab Africa, Nailab, ibid Labs, and Uganda’s Hivecolab. These places offer likeminded fellowship and access to mentors to take them on the journey from “idea to viable profitable business.”
According to Business Daily Africa, “There are more than 3,000 software developers who have come up with both mobile and personal computer-based software applications that are changing lives across the continent.”
A transformation in funding access has also led to a renaissance in new thinking that is transforming tech start-ups into viable businesses. Kenya has the Kenya ICT Board and it awards US$50,000 through its Tandaa grant programme.
Because of this enthusiastic local support, the World Bank is now committing a US$55 million grant targeting Kenya’s technology innovators to be distributed through the Kenya ICT Board.
While Africa has come late to the Internet party, the continent can benefit from two decades of experience elsewhere to avoid making the mistakes that others have made. Africa can upload tried and tested Internet platforms and can also create new, Africa-specific platforms that tackle the continent’s own needs and challenges. – (July 2012)
A plethora of innovation hubs and centres have emerged across Africa. For further details, go to the image’s website here:
A plethora of undersea cables linking Africa to Europe, Asia and North America. For further details, go to the image’s website here:
• africaninnovatormagazine.com • innovationprizeforafrica.org Fibre-optic cables are used to carry electronic communications between continents.