The African continent has the lowest number of internet users in the world. This sad state of affairs is seriously holding back the development of the continent in terms of its citizens’ connectedness with the rest of the world, their access to information, and the subsequent development of knowledge, science and technology.
The BBC’s Special Report, ‘Superpower’, focuses on the massive transformative effects of the internet, as a global facilitator. A revealing and worrying feature of the report includes a timeline of past and present internet coverage around the world. As mentioned, Africa does not fare very well. The continent ‘lags behind the rest of the world’ in connecting to the net. As of 2008, heavyweights South Africa and Nigeria had, respectively, only 6-10 and 11-15 percent of their populations online, while the majority of countries in the continent had less than 5% of their population covered. With so little coverage, Africans are not getting access to the world’s information, and with much of the world aligning their efforts in line with the growing ‘information economy’, Africa is in danger of falling behind.
Switched on Africans are not standing still in their bid to bring information-based tools to their regions. The GLORIAD project underway in Egypt, Africa’s most connected country with 20% of people online, plans to extend the country’s high-speed fibre optic network, already linked with Europe and the northern hemisphere, to other African countries. Such a move will allow for improved data transfer, videoconferencing and access to information in these countries. The NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure Programme is working on plans to connect African countries to one another and the world by means of a broadband network utilising a series of fibre-optic submarine cables. Trade, social and cultural exchange and knowledge access will be increased exponentially by such an eventuality.
The effects of the internet on public mobility were demonstrated dramatically in Kenya after 2007’s notorious election debacle. Kenyans used the internet to connect with each other and apply pressure for political accord, sharing relevant and timely information directly when so much of the mainstream media was taken up with rumour and misinformation. The country has embraced the internet and the use of modern social networking tools, with local TV stations and the government getting involved by providing online content. Local technology firms have been capitalising on this popularity and leasing cable capacity from the national networks, providing greater and faster access to consumers.
Entrepreneurship such as the above will continue to thrive as Africans look for ways to get online and communicate with the world. Governments and businesses in the region should continue and redouble their efforts to facilitate access for their people. Bringing Africa online will empower its citizens, bring them together and allow their voices and ideas to be heard on a global stage.