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The Internet Is Changing Africa

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Yesterday we posted the history of women in software development. Today, we are introducing you to the internet and tech revolution happening in Africa. While the continent is massive, with many differences between countries, technology is changing countries as diverse as Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, and South Africa.

 

The Internet revolution in Africa

The revolution comes as a result of the rise in smartphone ownership coupled with easier access to Internet. At this point, Africans can buy Android phones for as little as $50. Together, basic internet services boost the quality of life, such as Africans now having access to applications that coaches women giving birth.

 

Something as simple as this coaching can have phenomenal effects, saving lives in countries like Ethiopia, where most women give birth outside of hospitals. Further, the internet revolution in Africa are causing a huge boost in agricultural productivity around the continent. Farmers are now able to access market prices via their phones, which allows them to save precious time when selling their goods, as there is no need for them to undertake a physical trip to the town.

 

A 2016 study published by MIT shows that M-Pesa – Kenya’s most popular mobile payments app – brought 194,000 Kenyan households out of poverty. Access to mobile wallets increased the financial literacy of many users. In this way they were able to help themselves come above the poverty line. Apart from that, the use of mobile payment apps help in the fight against corruption and broken financial systems. With mobile payment apps, funds go directly to those in need, and not shady middlemen. During the famine crises in 2011, NGOs used mobile payments to send money directly to 20,000 Somalian families.

 

The Help

Of course, in order for Africa to get the most of the Internet revolution, they will need governments as well as external investors to get on board. Luckily, the news have spread quickly and Microsoft declared that they will invest $100 million to open an Africa technology development centers with sites in Kenya and Nigeria.

 

“The future of the world in terms of labour work force is here in Africa and we started working about infrastructure that is needed in order to untap that opportunity, and give the opportunity for all the African countries in order to do the bridging in the details cap.”

– Jaime Galviz, Microsoft’s COO

 

Microsoft claims that they will employ more than a hundred local engineers to work in the new African center. The African engineers will work mostly on the customization of the company’s current and future applications for the African market. For these purposes, Microsoft will deploy technologies such as artificial intelligence, mixed reality, and machine learning.

 

To add to the good news, the presence in the African tech scene from other global tech giants such as Google-owner Alphabet Inc and Facebook has also increased in recent years. What makes the continent so appealing to them is the growing economies with rising access to the internet and the youthful population. “The next billion internet users” some say, which makes it crucial that companies like Google, Facebook etc are present there.

 

However…

As with everything in this world, the African internet revolution has its drawbacks, too. African countries have a history of bring ruled by authoritarianism, unrest, and underdevelopment. The Internet isn’t necessarily used as a force for good, it can also be used as a force of evil.

 

Because of that, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the governments of both Sudan and Algeria blocked the internet when public protests raised against their respective regimes. To continue the trend, Chad’s government blocked the internet in the country in May 2018. In Uganda, the government started taxing people who use social media platforms in 2018, which led to a huge drop in their use. As a result, the most popular search in Google In Uganda last year was “what is a VPN?”!

 

Gambling and fake news

To add salt to the wound, the Internet is not helping with the gambling problem in Africa either. Studies show that there is a correlation between smartphone ownership and online gambling. The biggest problem for the more developed African nations is sports betting. According to a poll from the  News Agency of Nigeria, there nearly 60 million Nigerians aged between 18 and 40 place bets on a daily basis.

 

Another huge problem regarding the African Internet revolution is the spread of fake news. The fake-news campaign in South Africa from 2016 into 2017, was used to divide the country along racial lines. However, there are other types of fake news that can be deadlier.

 

In Africa, many people use WhatsApp to spread health information to friends and family. A movement in Nigeria in the early ’00s asked people to stop vaccinating their children against polio. People believed that the government initiated the movement in order to sterilize African women. The consequences proved fatal. Luckily, there are organizations out there like Africa Check that helps to find and debunking false health information.

 

The Game Changer

Nobody can tell if Africa will become the next high-tech hub, but it is definitely headed that way. With all the investment coming from big tech companies, the Internet revolution is a sure sign of optimism for the continent.

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