Home Africa and the Middle EastAfrica and the Middle East 2005 Internet in Africa: defining possibilities

Internet in Africa: defining possibilities

by david.nunes
Masedi MolosiwaIssue:Africa and the Middle East 2005
Article no.:5
Topic:Internet in Africa: defining possibilities
Author:Masedi Molosiwa
Title:Executive Director
Organisation:Cape Information Technology Initiative (CITI)
PDF size:64KB

About author

Masedi Molosiwa is the Executive Director of the Cape Information Technology Initiative (CITI). Mr Molosiwa is also the Joint-chair of the Internet Service Providers’ Association of South Africa (ISPA). ISPA is the representative body of South Africa’s Internet Service Provider community, while CITI is a non-profit organisation promoting the development of the IT cluster in South Africa’s Western Cape Province. CITI’s ultimate aim is for the province to become a global information technology hub and the IT gateway to the African continent. Before joining CITI, Masedi served as both Brand Manager and Product Manager for a technology start-up initiated by one of South Africa’s leading financial services companies in 2001. Mr Molosiwa had previously worked at M-Web Studios as Marketing Services Manager and spent several years as an account manager at the Ogilvy & Mather, Rightford Searle-Tripp & Makin advertising agency in Cape Town. His academic qualifications include a degree in Architecture from the University of Cape Town.

Article abstract

In Africa, where Internet penetration is only 1.5 per cent, every Internet connection makes a difference. Entire villages and towns typically share only a few Internet access points; even so, African immigrants to South Africa have Hotmail, or other such email addresses to stay in touch with home. Africans at cafés use the Internet to find jobs, to jump from the ghetto and into an office park. Also, in some countries, the Internet is often the only independent source of news.

Full Article

Visitors to countries in the developing world often comment on how their small tokens of appreciation, their tips, are so well received. When most of the population in certain parts of Africa live on less than a dollar a day, it is easy to understand how a tip of a few dollars can make an enormous difference in someone’s life on the continent. Similarly, when Internet penetration in Africa is hovering around the 1.5 per cent mark and with double-digit penetration rates found only in tiny Reunion (over 20 per cent) and the Seychelles (around 14 per cent), one Internet connection can make a big difference to the lives of those who share it. And share it they do. In the developed world, one household typically has a television for almost every room, several telephones and possibly a broadband fixed line as well as a mobile Internet connection. In Africa, governments and certain organisations might roll out Internet access in a mobile prefabricated “telecentre”, or similar community installation. Entire villages and towns are typically expected to share no more than a few Internet access points. Because most Africans treat the Internet as a scarce and precious resource, as many of us would treat clean water or even anti-retroviral drugs, a single Internet connection in one of our remote towns could make a huge impact, far greater than the limited bandwidth its uses would suggest. While Africa remains the least connected continent in the world both in terms of total bandwidth available and overall penetration rates, the Internet touches Africans in so many divergent ways, while offering the real promise of a better quality of life. With economic growth rates not seen in almost two decades, low inflation and interest rates, a strong currency that has become one of the best performers against the US dollar and a politically stable and vibrant democracy, South Africa is to Africa what the United States is to Mexico, or what Australia is to its Eastern neighbours. Cities like London and New York are always hailed as examples of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. Visit South Africa, Johannesburg in particular, and you will find all of Africa there “in a nutshell”. Strikingly, almost every African immigrant to South Africa that I have ever met has a Hotmail, Yahoo or similar, email address that they use to stay in touch with home and to send news of their life in the Rainbow Nation to their loved ones. With just 4 million postal addresses in South Africa, email has become the means of applying for a job and staying in contact with a potential future employer. Walk into any Internet café in South Africa and look at any of the PC history folders. You will find the URLs of such websites as careerjunction.co.za, jobmail.co.za and bizcommunity.co.za. I suppose it is the same in European countries too. The difference is that, in African countries, the web is often the only way of lifting oneself out of the ghetto and into an office park. In Botswana, craftspeople formed a group to market their products on the Internet with help from Botswanacraft Marketing. There are now 24 women in the group and they are able to sell most of their artworks to collectors from many different countries. Suddenly, skilled African weavers, painters and potters find themselves commanding decent prices for their hard work in cyberspace. Before the Internet, when they were flogging their wares on the side of a rural dirt road, they were lucky if they were offered a couple of dollars for the same wares. Not only has the Internet meant these people are receiving fair prices for their goods, it has done wonders for their dignity and self-respect. The only reason their prices had been so low on the side of the road was that they felt their work was not unique or special. The Internet has made them realise that their talents are unmatched outside of Africa. Its common sense that an increase in the price of what one produces would be matched by an increase in one’s feeling of self-worth. The Internet is also helping Zimbabweans gather the kind of news about their country that the government-owned media is loathe to disseminate. The Zimbabwe Independent remains the only independent newspaper in the country after the forced closing of the Daily News in September last year. However, thanks to the web, the Zimbabwe Independent is not a voice alone in the wilderness. According to Sandra Nyaira, a former Zimbabwean journalist quoted in the Online Journalism Review (OJR): “In most instances I go on the Internet and read stories about my country that my mother (who still lives in Zimbabwe) doesn’t even know are happening”. The only papers she has access to are the state media. She cannot even afford to buy the Zimbabwe Independent. The OJR adds that Zimbabwe has experienced an explosion of new Internet users: “with a population of 14.7 million, there are half a million people accessing the Internet, up from 50,000 in 2000.” This means that Internet penetration is even higher than that of continental powerhouse South Africa, which has some three million Internet users and a population soon approaching the 50 million mark. But then, South Africa has a sophisticated and established press with little or no government interference in media freedom, so there is less reliance on the Internet as a news source. So what does the Internet’s future in Africa look like? Well, for one thing it is likely that Africans will once again do a leapfrog jump ahead when it comes to adopting technology. The rapid acceptance of mobile telephony – there are currently more than twice as many cell phone users as there are Internet users – means that in the future Africans will probably access the Internet and their email using mobile devices, at least if Vodacom South Africa’s CEO Alan Knott-Craig has his way. According to Knott-Craig: “The market needs a device better geared towards email than a cell phone, but less complex and expensive than a laptop and a 3G data card. The Blackberry device migrates ordinary cell phone consumers more easily into the mobile data world than PDAs.” As with so many other aspects of life in Africa, there is indeed cause for both Internet optimism and bandwidth bashfulness. Triple-digit growth rates in many African countries have seen Internet uptake rocket to 12 million users last year, compared to a paltry 500,000 in 1995, amongst other positive developments. Finally, the prediction below, written by poet and freedom fighter Pixley ka Seme 99 years ago, is probably the most compelling reason to invest in Africa’s future. It presents his vision of the new Africa unfolding, only now, before our eyes, thanks to technology such as the Internet and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) mobile phones, leaders like Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela and initiatives like the Pan-African Parliament and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). “The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already I see her chain dissolved, her desert plain red with harvest, her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities. Her Congo and her Gambia whitened with commerce, her crowded cities sending forth the hum of business and all her sons employed in advancing the victories of greater peace and more abiding that the spoils of war.”

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