Africa seeks to boost investment on wider broadband connectivity

President William Ruto visits the CAK exhibition booth during the Connected Africa Summit. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

President William Ruto has pointed out the gap between mobile service connectivity and usage as a major concern and emphasised the need for enhanced broadband coverage in the region.

The President, who attended the opening of the Connected Africa Summit in Nairobi on Monday, said the continent is lagging in digital infrastructure, coverage, access and quality compared to other regions such as Europe and Asia.

As a result, Africa is yet to optimise its potential even as he touted the continent, particularly Kenya, as the next frontier of investments.

“Today, 300 million people across Africa live more than 50 kilometres away from an active fibre optic connection, a yawning physical gap that denies them access to the internet and separates them from all the possibilities of the digital economy,” Ruto said.

He said 84 per cent of people in the region lived in areas where 3G connectivity service was available at the end of 2021, while 63 per cent had access to 4G mobile coverage.

“Regrettably, only 22 per cent were using mobile internet services. This gap between coverage and usage is similarly large for broadband internet connectivity, with 61 per cent of people in our region living within the broadband range but unable to use it.

“It is clear, therefore, that closing the digital divide is a priority in terms of enhancing connectivity, expanding the contribution of the ICT sector to Africa’s gross domestic product and driving overall GDP growth,” said the President, adding that Africa’s digital economy has immense potential, which is projected to reach $712 billion (Sh92.6 trillion) by 2050.

Several dignitaries attended the summit and think tanks drawn from the continent and overseas, with US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman and the EU Ambassador Henriette Geiger among the speakers.

Ms Whitman exuded confidence that the continent will be home to technological innovations in the 21st century.

Trustworthy partnerships

She pointed out that the adoption of technological innovation is a necessity for every business, saying “Every business is a tech business.”

“Innovation is not about about what is flashy but addressing real problems to help real people,” she said. 

Ms Geiger noted that investment, sound government framework and trustworthy partnerships are key when pursuing technological innovations. 

“Investments can only flourish in a stable and predictable policy and regulatory environment. We need a framework which will safeguard and spur innovation and entrepreneurship,” she said. 

ICT and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo said the summit provides an opportunity to discuss the emerging issues in the technological space and come back with a clear road map.

Some of the issues are artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, cyber security, digital jobs, digital entrepreneurship and universal access in tandem with digital inclusivity. 

“Everything we are ready to do by way of digital intervention has to be anchored on a sound policy, legal and regulatory framework,” said the CS. 

The summit runs until Friday and seeks to serve as a strategic forum to chart a course towards a digitally interconnected future for Africa as a way to growth and prosperity.

It has participants from Africa, Asia and the European Union.

 

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