Embracing each benefit, challenge, and novelty brought about by the ongoing technological revolution requires a lot of preparation that involves way more than just willpower. The African continent has been for years benefiting from this quiet - yet powerful - phenomenon that came to lift the African economy and boost quality of life inside the region. Despite the positive progress that has been happening throughout the continent in recent years, Africa still has to overcome some setbacks in order to see the advantages of the digital era truly transforming its societies into tech-based ones. The impact of the numerous changes that constant technological advancements bring to our lives is colossal. Still, the way these impacts unfold individually inside different nations is entirely dependent on a myriad of factors such as socio-economic conditions, political affairs, and infrastructure. In Africa, all of them are important and can pose difficulties in the process of implementing new technologies. Even if we do ignore the political and cultural turns of many African economies (we shouldn’t, they are all related) and focus only on technical issues, we come across a list of problems that hamper technological upgrades in countries inside the African continent, most of them related to lack of resources. Africa still needs to hunt for effective solutions for these structural problems if it wants to keep growing its financial systems and welcoming life-changing technologies to its territory.
The good news is that globalization is absolutely in favor of this scenario since it allows developing economies to seize opportunities offered on a chain that is based on global networking. On top of that, the statistical data of the past years also shows a promising scenario - even under the pessimistic atmosphere occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile internet adoption continues to grow in the Sub-Saharan region, a trend that has kept increasing since 2014. By the end of 2020, the year of the pandemic, almost 30% of citizens in this area were connected, but the rate is still considerably lower than in many other countries. In Germany, for instance, almost 90% of the population has access to the Internet, which makes the mere rate of 30% in Africa even more concerning.
Before talking about potential solutions for the connectivity issues in Africa, it is necessary to understand the backstory that allowed this to still be a major problem in modern times. The weak socio-economic conditions of many African countries and the consequences are on the front line of this discussion. Here, we are talking about highly volatile economies that have been performing poorly for years and experiencing a few growing waves affected by many outside factors depending on worldwide phenomena. High foreign debts, poor environmental policies, and lack of initiatives to embrace a speedy populational growth are also part of the list of reasons Africa struggles to implement network-dependent projects and invest in policies that can boost the journey toward continent-wide connectivity.
According to the United Nations’ SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) list - which is pretty much a worldwide to-do list for a better planet and human life on Earth - universal access to the Internet and affordable connectivity are a must for each citizen, nation, and economy and that is why we talk about Africa so much. For Africans, affordability is still a significant issue, mainly because the cost of data and energy can be pretty expensive and does not fit the reality of emerging economies that still struggle to fight against fundamental poverty-related issues. Even low-cost solutions can be a lot for such countries since their efficacy highly depends on agreements between local authorities and stakeholders. Combined with affordability issues, educational challenges are also a barrier to promoting access to mobile Internet. Of course, engaging with the benefits of digital transformation requires solid levels of literacy and background knowledge, something that good percentages of the population in many African countries lack. So, talking about promoting connectivity in Africa is also about educational inclusion. Without that, discussing digital literacy is pointless.
If numbers help make this scenario a bit more understandable, according to data from the World Bank, the Internet penetration rate in the entire African continent is less than 40%, making it the most underserved region when it comes to mobile infrastructure. Furthermore, it is estimated that around 700 million African citizens remain unconnected today, which also affects the professional prospects of this group of people. According to the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) projections, the ideal rate of Internet penetration rate for a continent like Africa would be around 75%, and the cost to get there is a little less than $100 billion. An exorbitant achievement like this could create over 40 million jobs for African citizens, starting a cycle that tends to be extremely fruitful in the long run.
It is equally important to consider that Africa’s booming young population may play an essential role in this process. Evidently, this group’s access to digital solutions is hampered by the aforementioned issues, which creates another side problem worth mentioning: talent loss. Therefore, as Africa gains attention from tech-related names willing, it is crucial to guarantee that young professionals are being prepared to engage with future professional opportunities.
Recently, Elon Musk’s SpaceX announced that Starlink, a satellite-based internet service, will be launched in Nigeria by the end of this year, with plans to be implemented in other African countries in 2022. The core value of Musk’s new technology is to provide better Internet coverage to underserved rural areas, but the idea's success is directly linked to the factors mentioned above. If Musk doesn’t have a plan to address issues, they will represent major risks to his plan to leave a mark on the African continent with his brand. Friendly reminder that Google’s similar project, Google Loon, crash-landed in the African market in 2020 because of the same constraints.
What Starlink’s launch means for Africa's internet issues and the side implications of the project in the African continent are yet to be revealed. All we know is that, as entrepreneurs like Musk keep targetting African nations and showing the willingness to bring their idea into the continent, it is imperative to go back a few rounds and think about the overall scenario. Starlink might be another example of a solution that is simply “too expensive” for Africa and another episode that highlights the importance of starting from scratch and finding the roots of connectivity issues before jumping into high-tech solutions for them.
A passionate Crypto investor since 2012, with deep understanding of marketing and business development, over the past few decades Dov Marcus has built many successful multi-million businesses as an entrepreneur and as an investor.