It is undeniable that the future lies with technology. Education, business and entertainment are all leaning more towards a digital solution than ever before, and keeping on par with the most advanced countries in the world likewise means keeping abreast of the incredible, sweeping changes that technology brings. But regardless of the clear benefits that a technological revolution brings, it also is not an easy process and one that must be embraced on many levels.
In Africa, the process of digitization is clear to see. But, although many African cities are rapidly adopting a digital world, other areas lag far behind. In some African countries the technology revolution is virtually non-existent, and Internet access still an entirely foreign concept. But the fact that a technology gap exists means that the digital advancements are more necessary, with the incredible benefits witnessed as they ripple their way across communities that lack infrastructure. In Africa, technology is the key to catching up.
Digital Interconnectivity Is Key
For many, the idea of living without Internet is difficult to even comprehend. So much of the world relies so heavily on Internet functionality these days, that the very notion of not having it defies belief. From banking services and primary communication to a steady flow of entertainment, the Internet is the current lifeblood of the world. In some parts of Africa, however, the Internet is still beyond reach. But this is rapidly changing.
Nairobi, Kenya, is seen by many as the leader of the digital revolution on the African continent. Internet penetration in the country has been so profoundly fast that it is almost unbelievable, with the first mobile phone service provider appearing only in 1999. By 2001 it was reported by the Kenyan Communication Commission that there were 330,000 subscribers. By 2013 that number exceeded 30 million, with overall mobile phone penetration in the country sitting at about 54%
More to the point, the mobile networks in Kenya are the very lifeblood of the economy. Today M-pesa, an SMS-based money transfer system in the country, is the basis of many businesses, with around $28 million transferred on a daily basis. That adds up to a breathtaking $8.8 billion annually. All this, and in 1999 the concept of a mobile phone was still new.
New Solutions And Innovations
Not all parts of Africa have experienced such rapid and notable progress. In other parts of the continent, the technology lag is profound. Many residents still lack access to even the most basic online services. Catching up these areas is a significant challenge, although a challenge that is being met with ingenious, sweeping solutions.
With overall mobile phone penetration in Kenya still sitting at just over half, the parts of the country that lag behind are now at risk of being stuck in a retro bubble. But solutions are already being implemented, allowing for 100% penetration in one fell swoop. Alphabet Inc., a technology innovation company, is working with the Kenyan government on a project called Loon. Using a network of balloon systems, the rural population in Kenya will soon be connected, according to information and technology minister, Joe Mucheru.
Mucheru has stated that contracts are still being worked out, but he hopes the project will result in a country that is 100% connected for the first time. He also stated plainly that connectivity is critical, and those not online are left out.
Other Technology Benefits
Michuki Mwangi, an Internet Society Senior Development Manager, attended the 9th African Peering and Interconnection Forum held in Cape Town. In an interview, he explained that he had purchased his first mobile phone in Kenya, at a massively discounted price. The reason for the discount, he said, was because the retailers operated entirely online, with no store costs of any kind. He went on to state that it was the future of not just the country, but also the entire continent. More than ever before, he said, regulatory environments were driving down costs in Africa, painting a clear path for the future.
Clearly, Mwangi is not the only one to think so, with Microsoft and Amazon recently launching cloud servers in Africa. These cloud-based servers allow online opportunities for African businesses like never before, helping to provide broad business opportunities without the need for business owners to own physical stores. Of course, for these servers to be taken advantage of, connectivity must be far-reaching. Hence the need for smart African cities.
What precisely a smart city depends on who you’re asking, and which city you’re looking at. There is no one specific definition, other than to say that a city, in this modern world, needs to be connected by more than just roads. The second web of infrastructure must exist, connecting businesses, residents and government facilities in the digital world. This, it is understood, is key to taking residents, and countries, forward into the future.
Again, Nairobi is a city that leads the way in this regard. The city has a strong focus on technology evolution and growth, with a push toward cutting-edge start-ups and businesses focused around rapid technology growth. Universities train students to spot gaps in society and develop technology-based solutions. The rest of Africa would be wise to follow the path Nairobi is headed.
The Ripple Effect Of Technology
Of course, technology advancement is not just about business. All aspects of a modern society are impacted by technological advancements and digitization. Once the infrastructure is in place, all aspects of a society rise to meet the set standard, helping elevate multiple other factors into the future. From education to healthcare, the benefits are far-reaching, and key in bringing Africa onto the same levels as the most developed countries in the world.
A university connected to the information hubs of the world guide students to previously unthought-of employment opportunities, pushing students to not only take advantage of business opportunities but likewise assist in further fuelling the technological revolutions. Likewise, government facilities become more efficient and effective than ever before, allowing entire populations to feel the far-reaching benefits.
Though, the most significant challenges will always be ensuring that no parts of the country are left behind. Hence, the challenges are still significant, with a real risk of letting some residents fall behind, while others speed ahead towards a digital future.