In­for­ma­tion Tech­nolo­gies Trans­form­ing Africa

Southern Innovator - - WASTE & RECYCLING -

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:

mhealthafrica.com/in­fo­graphic-2-rein­vent-africa

A plethora of un­der­sea ca­bles link­ing Africa to Europe, Asia and North Amer­ica. For fur­ther de­tails, go to the im­age’s web­site here:

many­pos­si­bil­i­ties.net/african-un­der­sea-ca­bles

• africanin­no­va­tor­magazine.com • in­no­va­tion­prize­forafrica.org Fi­bre-op­tic ca­bles are used to carry elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween con­ti­nents.

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