Africa is making strides in closing the digital gap. An uptick in adoption of mobile technologies that connect people to the Internet helps. Already, the open Internet is making a difference in countries across Africa, from streamlining government operations and crime fighting to improving medical care and helping smallholder farmers get the best price for their crops. Still, challenges remain in improving digital infrastructure to broaden Internet access.
Innovators such as Kenya-based Ushahidi are developing off-the-grid servers such as BRCK to connect remote areas where broadband doesn’t exist. Tech entrepreneurs are offered incentives at Nairobi’s iHub. Read more about Ushahidi and iHub here.
Sharing critical public health information and bringing better medical treatment to rural areas of Africa are enhanced by the Internet and mobile devices, which are being used in the Ebola epidemic. See The Ebola Public Health Emergency Aided by Online Tools and Wired Ways to Monitor TB Patients’ Drug Doses.
A research paper by Steven Livingston for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies describes how information and communication technologies (ICTs) are taking hold in Africa’s security landscape: “The rapid expansion and accessibility of mobile communications technology in Africa is creating new opportunities for combating crime and strengthening police accountability.” Mapping and mobile alerts help police crowdsource information. See Africa’s Information Revolution: Implications for Crime, Policing, and Citizen Security(2013) for more details.
A report by InternetMatters.co.za on the economic benefits of the Internet in South Africa tracks how businesses that use ICT prosper in comparison to those that do not — and how those that do are growing South Africa’s GDP.
Making the Internet affordable is a big challenge in Africa. Nigeria: How Africa’s Largest Economy Is Prioritising Affordable Internet (2014) is a case study by the Alliance for Affordable Internet that gives a road map for successful open access in a country where broadband distribution remains low despite mobile phone growth.
Impact of the Internet on Africa (2013), a comprehensive report by Dalberg consulting group, looks at small and medium businesses, Internet-based health applications, education, agriculture, labor and e-commerce across Africa; the impact of social media as a catalyst for driving Internet access; and the potential for e-governance. Case-study countries include Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal.
Organizations such as the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), a global network of social entrepreneurs who strive to bring the benefits of the Internet to more people, are helping Africa’s info tech revolution. The APC vision is that “all people have easy and affordable access to a free and open Internet to improve their lives and create a more just world.” The APC works in 35 countries to provide training — for example, the African School on Internet Governance. There were 650 applicants, of whom 45 were selected to participate in the 2014 session held in Mauritius.
Young African IT entrepreneurs are a key to expanding Internet access. DEMO Africa, which calls itself “the launchpad for emerging technology and trends,” hosts an annual forum where innovators can launch their startups and meet potential investors. The top 40 startups at DEMO Africa 2014 featured financial tools from Ghanaian, Nigerian, Rwandan, Kenyan, South African and Ethiopian entrepreneurs; medical applications developed by Ugandans and Tunisians; a wireless mesh network to broaden free access to Wi-Fi from a Zimbabwean innovator; and traffic and ride-sharing solutions from Egyptian developers.
Ten African Internet Millionaires to Watch, a blog post from Forbes, profiles entrepreneur developers in digital marketing, media, movies, messaging and Internet services across Africa.