Africa Day dawns on new, connected continent


Friday 25th May marked Africa Day, the annual commemoration of the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and almost fifty years later there is a growing awareness of how far Africa has come in technology innovation, application and use, and progress in bridging the digital divide.

Africa's developing technology and telecommunications capability. (Image: Flickr/ christo doherty)

The advancement of science and technology in Africa is viewed by leaders as imperative to socio-economic development. On Africa Day the South African Department of Science and Technology, together with eight country partners throughout Africa and the country’s science and technology community as a whole, toasted the awarding of two-thirds of the internationally acclaimed Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

One of the main challenges to the enhancement of Africa’s profile as a fully-connected, technologically-advanced continent has been that of broadband availability, access and effective application.

To this end the recent launch of the West African Cable System (WACS) is expected to address the immediate requirement for improved access, data speeds and connectivity.

The first benefit of WACS identified for the continent is that countries like Namibia, Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will, for the first time, leverage off direct international submarine cable connectivity between a London-based Point of Presence (PoP) and landing points in Europe and in Telkom-run landing site in Yzerfontein, Western Cape.

WACS is led by a consortium that has invested into the project to link up Africa with Europe, along a fibre optic cable that stretches across a network of landing points that connect continents.

All fourteen members of the consortium, comprising Neotel, MTN, Vodacom, Telkom SA, as well as several telcos from regions such as Namibia, Angola, Congo, Spain, Portugal and Togo, amongst others, agree that the project will also mean an increase in competition within the telecommunications services and application space.

This bodes well forAfrica as whole they say.

The fact is that Africa continues to make its presence felt globally when it comes to technology and telecommunications.

It was fitting that as the continent looked to celebrate Africa Day, South African born innovator and inventor Elon Musk made world headlines when, on May 22, his SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule successfully launched from Cape Canaveral in the US.

Musk is not the only internationally acclaimed local technology entrepreneur and, interestingly enough, not the only local space enthusiast. Mark Shuttleworth also achieved acclaim when he became the first South African in space. He is also known for his leadership of the Ubuntu operating system and ongoing contribution to community socio-economic development programmes.

There are also numerous accounts of innovators throughout Africa who have sparked renewed interest in technology and what it can do for developing societies.

For example Herman Chinery-Hesse, a software engineer by profession and co-founder of SOFTtribe in Ghana. According to his online profile as a former speaker at Tech4Africa, Chinery-Hesse is the first and currently only African recipient of the Alumnus Award from the Texas State Alumni Association and Texas State University– San Marcos (USA).

Research shows that the continent has played a key role in providing access to social network giant Facebook and driving traffic to the site.

According to the number of Facebook users inAfrica in March 2011 was 27,414,240 and a year later, the figure stood at 40,205,580. This represents penetration rates of 2,6% and 3,9% respectively.

However, it is not only the extent to which Africa embraces the global social networking and social media phenomenon that is interesting. Local innovators have conceptualised and introduced an social networking site, called Yookos (You Own Your Kosmos), which is designed specifically for the Africa market.

Yookos serves as a platform for trade and business, as well as a portal to promote issues that have been identified as priorities across developing economies.

According to management of the site, there are approximately 1 billion people in Africa and 120 million of these people use the Internet. In South Africa the figure of Internet users now stands at 6,8 million users. Of the 120 million users, 35 million are on Facebook.

Emerging markets in Africa are growing in strength, supported by ever-increasing popularity of mobile and telecommunications. An example is Rwanda. According to National Statistics Institute of Rwanda, mobile penetration in the country was at 38.4% as of July 2011.

With the increase in the number of users of technology, specifically mobile solutions, there has also been a rise in activity by industry regulatory bodies within some African countries. Most notably service providers in Nigeria and Rwanda have received requests to explain incidents that have led to disruption to their services to users.

Knowledge transfer a critical objective

Skills development and training remain core objectives across the continent. As the user base within key regions in Africa increases, the need to instill a culture of learning and contribute to the growing knowledge economy is imperative.

Organisers behind initiatives like Tech4Africa, the annual mobile, web & emerging technology event, place a premium on knowledge share and transfer to students, developers and established ‘techies.

The Tech4Africa conference was first launched in 2010 and is aimed at a range of stakeholders in ICT, including technologists, ‘geeks’ or ‘techies, corporations, investors and social media.

The aim of the event is to bring together those involved in the industry to share views, ideas and concepts that are helping to shape ICT and telecommunications throughout the continent.

Governments throughout Africa also underline the strategic importance of eLearning as a credible, cost-effective mechanism to extend the benefits of education to a wider market – especially to remote or previously inaccessible regions.

Ensuring that everyone has access to technology and is included as part of technology-based development programs is non-negotiable if the continent is to continue to advance and sustain its presence internationally.

Chris Tredger


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