Africa is described as undergoing a ‘fourth industrial revolution’. With smart phone connections forecast to increase to 720 million by the end of 2020, and Internet penetration rising faster than anywhere else in the world, Africa is being propelled into a new digital age.
For the vast majority of Africans, Internet engagement is solely through mobile technology. Africa is a continent that has skipped the era of the universal landline and the wide adoption of the PC that has occurred in developed countries. Areas where development has been formerly suppressed by relative lack of physical connectivity and access to reliable energy, such as remote healthcare, agriculture, and education, have recently been disrupted by innovative mobile solutions.
The rise of Africa’s digital economy has also seen the huge commercial success of mobile payment and remittance services across Africa. For the 70% of adults who have no or limited access to a bank account, mobile money services enable them to send and receive money using their phones. International mobile recharge services, like Senditoo, allow diaspora communities to support friends and family in their home countries.
Africa’s leap into the digital revolution sprang from half a dozen deep-sea cables that were laid along the continent’s eastern and western seaboards in 2002. Whilst Internet penetration has increased significantly since then, countries must keep up with rising demand for bandwidth in order to drive innovation and enable the digital shift across all sectors.
Overseas investors are also taking notice of the economic potential of the Africa’s digital revolution. Financial services are regarded as an exciting area, following from the developments in mobile money technology that have opened up banking to millions of people who could have never hoped to own bank accounts in the past. The growth in international mobile recharge services for the remittances sector also reflects the rise in Internet penetration through mobile phones.
It is evident that the Internet is a key player in Africa’s growth. The trend in recent years, which demonstrates the power of Internet and mobile connectivity, has been the shutting down of networksby governments during elections or moments of crisis. However, the question of whether Africa’s infrastructure can support the digital progress is yet to be answered.
Access in rural areas is still a problem, with many places having limited means to distribute power, poor roads, and absence of formal address systems making logistics difficult for online distributors. Another concern is whether digital progress can be sustained by local talent, or if Africa’s tech economy will become dominated by overseas operators.
From mobile banking, apps for managing medication, international mobile recharge, digitised land records, e-commerce and incubating start-ups, the promises of Africa’s digital renaissance are endless. The question of whether the Internet is key to this continent’s growth will be answered in the next few years, as the rest of the world watches closely.