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Bridging Africa's Digital Divide: The Fiber Optic Leap

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Griffith Sarah

Jun 8, 2024

Leapfrogging Traditional Technology

Despite significant investments in Africa's digital infrastructure by tech giants like Google and Meta, many Africans still face slow internet speeds and high data costs. Google's first cloud data center in Johannesburg, South Africa, operational since January, marks a major milestone in this transformation.

Tech Giants Investing in Africa

Tevin Tafese, a data scientist at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), highlights the business potential seen by US tech giants. Google's $1 billion commitment in 2022 to Africa’s digital transformation includes the Umoja project, the first fiber optic cable linking Africa to Australia. This cable will traverse Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, promising faster, cheaper internet.

Leapfrogging Traditional Technology

Africa's internet infrastructure development has bypassed traditional landlines, jumping straight to mobile and fiber optic technologies. This "leapfrogging" is evident in countries like South Africa, where mobile networks dominate over landlines.

Digital Inequality Persists

Despite these advances, digital inequality remains a challenge. Anriette Esterhuysen from Johannesburg's Association for Progressive Communications (APC) points out that while investments increase capacities, they do not necessarily bridge the digital divide. Those without access, devices, or skills remain marginalized.

High Costs of Internet Access

Sub-Saharan Africa has the world's highest mobile data prices, exacerbating the digital divide. The UN Broadband Commission aims to reduce broadband costs below 2% of monthly gross national income by 2025, but this target remains distant for many African countries.

Divine Puplampu, a software developer in Ghana, criticizes the high cost of data, suggesting government tariffs are partly to blame. Similarly, in Mozambique, protests have erupted over high internet costs.

The Road Ahead

For Africa to become a digital hub, governments must support infrastructure development and reduce costs. This will not only empower individuals but also facilitate broader socio-economic development across the continent.

While significant strides are being made in improving Africa's digital infrastructure, challenges remain in achieving affordable and widespread internet access. Continued investment and supportive government policies are crucial to bridging the digital divide and unlocking the continent’s digital potential.

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