Internet Usage in Africa

There are many people who believe that one of the biggest chances that Africa has to develop and vastly improve the standard of living there is the internet.  There is no doubt that throughout the world there is a huge correlation between successful developed countries and internet usage in those countries.  Of course you could argue that it is merely representative of previous success which enables the infrastructure to be developed and implemented.  However I believe that is far too simplistic.

The internet is more than a way to keep up with your friends or waste a few hours browsing around.  The internet is the most powerful, market place for skills, goods and services that there has ever been.  There is simply no sort of physical business that can’t benefit from some sort of internet presence and literally millions of businesses that simply exist online with no physical location. For Africa this is important, one of the biggest obstacles faced by the African entrepreneur is the lack of seed or investment funding to start a business.  African banks have simply not provided this service in the past although thankfully it is changing.   However an internet business can be started for virtually nothing, time and effort goes a long way online and it’s a great way for an entrepreneur to start and make a worthwhile living.

It can be used to promote or develop a localised business or with a little investment in things like proxies or VPNs as illustrated here, you can reach markets globally.  However if you look at some of the statistics representing internet usage in Africa you can see a worrying trend developing.  Have a look at some of the stats on this site – Africa Internet Usage, you can see that internet penetration is dominated by the traditional economic successes in Africa.  Countries like Egypt and South Africa have a very high proportion of internet users, also Kenya has invested heavily in an usable infrastructure.  However the largest by far is that of Nigeria where at least a proportion of the massive oil revenues has been utilised to improve internet availability.   These countries alone have well over 50% of the internet users in Africa, but places like the Congo or Ethiopia have a depressingly small amount of internet users.

Of course the internet is going to solve all these countries problems but falling behind in yet another economic advantage isn’t going to help them either.

Further Reading

Africa and Asia Compared

Every continent has its own unique flavor that makes it special. And of course this character is composed of many different cultures. Thus, it is difficult to talk of Asian culture that contains such different countries as China, India, Japan and Thailand. Similarly, northern Africa with its desert and Arabian culture is very different to sub-Saharan Africa with its jungles, animals and blend of tribes and religions. Nevertheless, there are some pertinent generalizations that can be drawn about the two continents for the sake of comparison.

Firstly, there are the sterotypes. The Western world views Asia as the economic power house of the world. Japan and now China and Korea are leading the way in manufacturing industries. Asia is renowned for making cars and other high-tech goods such as computers cheaper, faster and better than the West. Today, China leads the world in terms of new patent creation. India for several years has been the brains behind many software and IT breakthroughs. Silicon Valley is full of people of Indian descent.

In contrast, Africa is seen as a backwater by the West; as a continent of basket-case economies that have been slow to enter the world stage provided by globalization. Corruption, civil war, natural disasters, draught, famine and even genocide are remembered only too well as part of Africa’s past, and perhaps part of Africa’s fate. African countries with the possible exception of South Africa have a very small manufacturing base compared to Asia.

It is not just manufacturing. From visiting the two continents it is very noticeable that small businesses abound in Asia – street stalls, noodle stands, markets, repair men on the side of the road, itinerant barbers  – you name it and you can find it on the streets of many of the mega cities of Asia. In contrast, in African cities there often seems a dearth of small businesses. It leads many to think that Africans have less entrepreneurial sense than Asians. Indeed many Chinese and Indian shopkeepers have set up successfully all over Africa.

It is time that we Africans address these real and imagined deficiencies in our cultures. Bringing better information technology to Africa and showing that we can be just as innovative as the Indians and just as industrious as the Chinese is part of the task that lies ahead for Africa.

African Renaissance

It is a common mistake to make to think that developing countries will go through a similar evolution to that experienced by the now developed countries. This is naive thinking. The industrial revolution started in England in the late Eighteenth Century. It was focused around steam power, coal and the ability to trade with a huge Empire at very profitable rates.

Now all countries have access to the combustion engine, to fossil fuel generated electricity. Several, to the chagrin of the West, have even managed to make foryas into nuclear power. Moreover, the West is no longer the factory of the world. This dubious accolade belongs to Asia, and primarily to China.

Manufactuiring is at the heart of a strong economy but this must be balanced by the need to better husband natural resources, prevent environmental deterioration and to plan for a future where water, oil, coal, metal ores, minerals, wood and food will be the most precious commodities.

This is the great irony for Africa is rich in natural resources, and yet remains very poor in terms of GDP. Africa’s natural resources are being exchanged for expensive manufactured and designed products from abroad – cars, planes, weapons, infrastructure projects and the like.

The solution is for Africa to redress this post-colonial imbalance. It must manufacture its own cars, set up its own IT services, form its own companies to make precision tooling equipment, to make electrical goods, to create aerospace parts etc. Naturally, outside know-how is necessary but the interference from outside corporate elements must be reduced as much as possible over a planned time table. This is about economic sustainability. Africa has the resources, it just needs to better use these resources. Africa used to be the richest continent in the world. It can be a real challenger for that mantle again with the correct macro management.