Africa Data

Broadband – The Most Effective Catalyst for Development in Emerging Markets

Dambiso Moyo argues that “limitless development assistance to African governments, has fostered dependency, encouraged corruption and ultimately perpetuated poor governance and poverty” [1].    It is self evident that sustainable development has not taken off despite the billions in foreign aid to African Governments over the last 60 odd years since the end of the colonial era.

Having eliminated aid as being a non-starter for African development the challenge now is to find the magic formula.   What key attributes, artefacts, behaviours or mechanisms will have the highest impact?    It is a highly complex web of factors and interdependencies that will lead to a sustainable future.   Issues like improved governance, the rule of law, better education,  better health care,  greater FDI,  trade,  even climate change will all be key factors that will impact the future of African development.

As a technophile I argue that development is highly dependent upon the proliferation of new technologies.  This is supported by the impact that early technologies such as fire and the wheel had on the acceleration of man’s early development.   Africans have the same propensity to become addicted to the most advanced technologies such as smart phones and tablets that are commonplace in the advanced world and which have become a cornerstone of the modern economy.

The rapid spread of mobile phones over the last 20 years in Africa is testament to this hunger for things new.   While creating business plans for the early mobile networks in the 90’s I referred to the then prevailing industry maxim which was that there was a direct correlation between tele-density and GDP per capita.   This data was primarily drawn from the advanced economies where tele-density was high, then comprising mainly fixed lines.   But correlation does not equate to causality.   It is clear that there were so many other factors at play – as alluded to above.  However, it is reasonable to posit that a necessary but not sufficient condition for development is high tele-density and now with the spread of the Internet – high broadband penetration.   We in the advanced economies have become used to the convenience of access to information at the click of a mouse.

It behooves us now to make the Internet available to the rest of humanity; there are those who proclaim such access as a human right.   I agree.   Mobile networks across Africa have provided a connection where none existed before and so too access,  albeit limited, to the Internet via the data channel – 3G, 4G and maybe 5G sometime in the future.   This is confined to the larger urban areas.    The majority of Africans still live outside of cities – and so they remain ‘offline’.    Initiatives to provide broadband to rural Africans should, if packaged with affordable devices, data access and easy to use services, provide the most effective way to kick-start sustainable development.

[1][1] Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa (2009)

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