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Slow growth of rural towns blamed for low internet connectivity

Real Estate
 DP Rigathi Gachagua together, CS Eliud Owalo (2nd right) bat the ICT stand during the Connected Africa Summit 2024. [DPCS]

The slow development of rural towns has been linked to uneven connectivity as players in the tech space insist on more funding to spur the uptake of digital services. 

At the just concluded Connected Africa Summit held in Nairobi, it was noted that digital infrastructure in the region is fragmented and this leaves out the majority of individuals who are largely based in the rural areas. 

However, there are no incentives for players to invest in the rural towns, which are also growing at a slow rate making them unattractive for investment. 

Global Gateway Ambassador in the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Finland Roy Eriksson pointed out that for a rural town to be commercially viable for investors, it needs a population of more than 10,000. 

“And in Africa, many villages and towns are a lot smaller, so there are no incentives for the private operators to come in,” he said.

Mr Eriksson said this is the reason Finland has been at the forefront in coming up with initiatives and funding to ensure rural connectivity for economic growth. 

Safaricom Chief Executive Peter Ndegwa noted that the aggressive rollout of 4G and 5G networks is yet to shift the scale. 

“Access to 4G and 5G smartphones remains considerably low. Even though we cover 97 per cent of this country with 4G and we are rapidly deploying 5G, most Kenyans at 61 per cent are still using feature phones,” he said. 

 Digital space

He said this data is almost similar across most of the African continent even as he emphasised that every citizen in the country and the region deserves to be connected and have access to the opportunities in the digital space. 

“At the core of these advancements is connectivity. We cannot overlay other services and solutions if we do not have accessible connectivity for all,” said Mr Ndegwa. 

He said Safaricom has joined hands with the government to improve these statistics by assembling affordable smart devices.

Mr Ndegwa said in a few months, about 300,000 4G-enabled units have been assembled. 

He said the assembly plant plans to also serve the rest of the East African Community, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the larger Africa. 

It is a view also shared by Information, Communication and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo.

“We must facilitate universal access to smartphones. In Kenya, we have embarked on local assembly of affordable smart devices that go for Sh6,500,” he said.

“There is no reason why Africa should be a net importer of technology. We have the capacity and skills of becoming manufacturers ourselves.” 

Huawei Global Vice President for Public Affairs Janlin Bao cited fragmented and costly digital infrastructure as some of the challenges impeding digital progress on the continent. 

Yet, he added, the continent has several success stories. 

“By focusing on these critical success factors and addressing the multifaceted challenges, the continent can unlock new opportunities for inclusive growth,” said Mr Bao.

 He noted that rural connectivity remains a significant challenge for the region. 

“Deploying telecommunication infrastructure in remote regions poses a challenge but engaging local community and understanding their connectivity needs is essential,” he said. 

Though slow, it will lead to easy-to-deploy and cost-effective innovative solutions.

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