Technology Africa, living a new industrial revolution

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TECHNOLOGY AFRICA

In his technology Africa article Colin Moors looks at how technology has improved on the world’s second largest continent.

My columns for this esteemed publication tend to be about what’s new and hip in the world of technology. It’s natural, I suppose – I live in a First-World country with exceptional access to computers, mobile tech and fast internet. In this bubble of ours, it’s easy to forget what’s going on elsewhere in the world. Africa in all its forms and flavours has taken to technology, and in particular mobile technology, in a big way and many countries are using the two in new and exciting ways. Some are touting the huge uptake in mobile technology as Africa’s new industrial revolution while some are wary of pie-in-the-sky schemes and the ever-present hype. Could better communication ease the woes of a continent beset with problems both man-made and natural, or will it merely amplify them, as it has been seen to do in Europe and the US?  Let’s take a look at what’s going on in the continent that begins a short plane trip from here.

In the beginning there was… pretty much nothing, as it goes. Mobile and fixed broadband connectivity in Africa was pretty much non-existent as few as 15 years ago. The old copper-based infrastructure was patchy and relied on undersea cables dozens of years old. Between 2009 and 20012, some 65,000 km of fibre-optic cable were laid by various consortia connecting India, Europe and Africa. these cables skirt Africa from Portugal in the west to Saudi, Egypt and the UAE in the east, providing what’s known in the industry as ‘last-mile’ points – the point at which the connections are made to the main backbone from which the business of retailing the data can begin. This investment saw the uptake of mobiles jump to around 300 million by the end of 2016 with an expected rise to around 700 million by 2020. To put it in perspective, that’s just short of the number of mobiles in Europe.

So how are people using this new-found digital liberty? Aside from the usual suspects; Facebook, Google Microsoft and Amazon, there is a raft of ideas from small to enormous. The future is promising, particularly with developers like Nellya Maylis and Aida Mansour Lo, the creators of a land registration app called Sigeste. The two young women code and develop the app, which is used by local authorities to ascertain who owns a particular piece of land in Senegal. It would be easy to think that this was no big deal but with Senegal’s history of wars, conflict and disputes, land records have become somewhat blurred and there are numerous accounts of the same land being ‘sold’ several times to unsuspecting buyers. Sigeste, which relies heavily on mobile technology, can pull up the deeds for any particular plot of land – or tell the user if it isn’t yet registered. This is proving invaluable in resolving disputes and bringing a long-awaited level of security to buying land.