Would the Internet have the power to transform Africa? In recent years, the advent of new technologies has raised great hopes for the future of a continent in which 40% of the population still lives below the poverty line. “Technology and innovation are central to unlocking Africa’s vast potential , “ said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this summer.
Technological transformation has started to materialize with the rapid spread of mobile phones in the past fifteen years. In 2004, less than 3% of Africans had a fixed telephone line. In late 2018, according to the GSMA, an international association of cell phone operators and manufacturers, sub-Saharan Africa had 456 million unique mobile subscribers, representing a penetration rate of 44%. The market growth there is stronger than in any other region of the world. And the equipment in smartphones is developing at high speed.
Many services have thrived on this innovation. This is the case of mobile payment, launched in 2007 in Kenya and which has since spread across the continent. To the point that Africa alone today holds almost half of the active “mobile money” accounts in the world. In more crucial areas such as education, health and energy, development actors are betting a lot on the advances made possible by digital technology. To the point, sometimes, to nourish the belief in the “leapfrog” effect . The Anglo-Saxon expression – literally “frog jump” – describes how technological innovation could allow the continent to skip certain stages of development and transform the living conditions of its population.
However, optimism must be nuanced, if only for issues of access to digital. Lack of network coverage, high cost of subscriptions, weak alphabetical skills essential for using the Internet … There are many obstacles. More generally, the lack of physical infrastructure can never be compensated by digital alone. Building roads, bridges, railways and power plants must remain a priority, for governments as well as for international donors.
Keywords : Africa, News, Economy, Digital, Technology, Innovation
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