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Internet connectivity as a catalyst for sustainable development in Africa

By Tonny Tugee | Feb 28th 2018 | 3 min read
Typing on a laptop close-up. [Photo: Courtesy]

Fast and reliable Internet connectivity is one of the most important threads weaving together the social and economic fabric of modern society. As such, broadband access is the key to accelerating East Africa’s economic growth and powering its transition from a resourced-based to a knowledge-based economy. It could play an important role in improving employment and prosperity across the region.

As an example, The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) 2017 report points out that the rate of unemployment in Kenya is the highest in East Africa region, hitting a new high at 39.1 per cent. Better and faster Internet connectivity in other parts of the world has shown the importance broadband makes to economic growth, which in turn, should form an important element of a national strategy to address the challenge of unemployment. Kenya is currently embracing the development of the Internet, and is beginning to see the benefits of what this new knowledge-based economy could mean.

Additionally, African governments and multilateral institutions such as The United Nations (UN) agree that broadband access is one of the most important factors in reducing poverty and promoting long-term economic and social development in East Africa. They are positioning Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) among the most important factors for development over the next few years. 

Development opportunity

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a unique opportunity for countries, businesses and other organizations worldwide to work together on 17 critical measures that embody the collective aspirations of the planet’s citizens. SDG 9 calls on states to “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”.

Yet, across East Africa, many people, communities and businesses still lack access to broadband services that are fast, affordable, reliable and accessible. Where fixed-line infrastructure exists, much of it is old or degraded, or is not lit to extract its full potential; many, if not most parts of the region, lack the basic infrastructure required to deliver high-quality Internet access a cost that most people can afford.

This is why internet service providers opt to invest in building fibre infrastructure across Kenya’s major centers, with the goal of providing high-speed Internet access that can transform the way businesses, learning institutions and government operate.

Fibre offers the capability to move large amounts of data at high speed, with the ability to provide reliable and swift upload and download speeds. Additionally, as a dedicated resource, fibre allows each end-user to enjoy boundless capacity without much congestion.

Knowledge economy

It has been proven that improved broadband access levels helps to catalyse GDP growth, facilitate social development and improve productivity. Yet there is still much work to be done before we close the digital gap between the rich countries in the northern hemisphere and sub-Saharan Africa’s major economies.

Though it may take some time to close the digital divide, we are steadily moving towards a world where the majority of entrepreneurs in Africa will be as well connected as those in Europe. Figures from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) show that there were nearly 55,000 fixed fibre optic subscriptions in June 2017, double the approximately 27,500 connections recorded in June 2016.

Businesses, across all sectors, can be more productive and efficient by harnessing new technology. At the same time, they gain access to a global marketplace of billions of people and millions of companies, and can attract international investment and join international supply chains. As more organizations and people gain access to broadband, economic benefits multiply at an exponential rate.

The SDGs outline a framework that unites businesses and world leaders behind the vision of a connected, sustainable world. As an important element of the SDGs, maximizing the potential of the Internet requires a stable and predictable operating environment, as well as support for basic research, that only governments can provide. It is time for world leaders to put the potential of the Internet at the very top of the development agenda.

Connectivity is vital in driving progress towards achieving each and every one of the 17 SDGs. The challenge for African businesses and governments right now is to ensure that no one is left behind by the knowledge economy.

Improved infrastructure and access to Information and Communications technologies can create economic opportunities, lower costs and raise productivity. This can foster social and economic inclusion, ultimately contributing to shared prosperity.

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