United States tech giants such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google are pushing their way into Africa’s digital market. They are investing in satellites, helium balloons and drones in the hope that remote corners of the continent can remain connected.
Despite Africa’s indigenous accomplishments in the digital sector, the market is far from fully tapped and there is a need for higher investment.
According to a recent study by the World Bank, based on a series of surveys carried out in recent years, just one in five people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to the internet. Putting the continent well below the global average of internet users, which is just over 50 per cent.
The biggest players in Africa’s internet infrastructure are multinational telecommunication giants such as South-African based MTN, French-owned Orange SA and Indian Bharti Airtel, with government-run companies now only playing a lesser role. While nearly half of all African service providers were state-owned in 2000, only around one fifth are currently active, mostly due to the increased costs of running such a company.
It’s evident that controlling a country’s digital infrastructure is now a key factor in maintaining power, especially for authoritarian regimes. In the context of elections and demonstrations, for example, some African governments have previously made it difficult to access popular individual apps such as Twitter or Facebook, while some have blocked internet access altogether.
Not all the projects which made headlines in recent years ended up being successful. Silicon Valley’s investment in Africa’s digital infrastructure is not without its problems. Google squandered its investments in internet drones. Ultimately though, this fragmentation and war which can be observed on a global scale between China and the US will directly impact Africans.
Thankfully, Africa’s backlog of infrastructure could present a vast opportunity. Africa now has the chance to produce another decentralized internet model. One stripped of the monopoly giants.
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