Before I visited his country, a colleague from Nigeria described to me how an up-and-coming Nigerian youth shared the same interests as youngsters in developed countries: they want to have i-pads, use social networks, and so on – as everybody else. Yes, I’m aware that this is just one part of the Nigerian society. Not everybody has access to Facebook, Google, or the like because not everybody has connectivity in Africa.
Actually, according to Internet World Stats Internet users in Africa represent only 9.3% of the total users in the world, despite being 16.2% of the world population. What’s more, Internet penetration in Africa is only 28.7% of the total population, well below the rest of world (54.2%).
Acknowledging this important issue, a group of prominent leaders including Mark Zuckerberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Bono, agreed to implement the promise that universal internet access becomes a reality by 2020. They believe this is essential for achieving the Global Goals for Sustainable Development: to create equal opportunities all around the globe, to fight injustice, to share ideas, and to create more jobs.
Facebook and Google have started unprecedented projects in order to make Internet accessible in Africa:
- Facebook has launched the Free Basics App. This enables mobile users to access the site free of data charges. It’s available in 53 countries – 23 of which are African countries.
- Google has implemented the Project Link. This brings faster and more reliable Internet by building a metro fiber network. It was first implemented in Kampala, Uganda with a 1,000 kilometer network, and the extended to Accra and two other cities in Ghana.
However, these projects are controversial. The risk of censorship in Africa may be high as many of Facebook’s mobile-provider partners are state-owned or highly influenced by the local government. Also, these projects generate the suspicion that Facebook and Google are looking to take over a rising and promising continent in order to multiply their potential profits.
Any views on the issue?
Nadim Elayan, Research Assistant at IESE Business School, collaborated in this article.