As Africa’s technology ecosystem continues to evolve, so does its impact on the continent’s politics.
By Simon Campbell-Young, CEO of Intact Software Distribution
Africa is transitioning from the edges to the centre of the global economy, and technology is playing a crucial role. Alongside investment and modernisation is the emergence of a growing network of entrepreneurs, tech ventures and innovation centres, driving significant economic growth.
The increasing number of innovation hubs, tech startups and new ventures are running concurrently with a few years of investment into the continent and significant economic growth on the whole. South Africa’s well established and stable IT industry is investing in several African countries, and Kenya’s tech ecosystem, called “Silicon Savannah”, has done wonders for east Africa’s broadband capacity.
There’s no doubt tech investments are bettering Africa’s ICT infrastructure and driving improvements in connectivity, innovation, and transformation. In fact, efforts to connect Africa, from within and outside the continent, saw the number of Internet users double in four years from 2010, according to the International Telecommunications Union. Africa’s smartphone use is also set to rise to 540 million by 2020. There’s no doubt that improved access to the internet and digital platforms will alter the political status quo. But what is next for Africa?
As Africa and its people become more connected, we can expect technology to influence and alter how politics and elections are conducted, according to Ushahidi, a non-profit technology company with staff in nine countries whose aim is to help marginalised people have a voice, and which was instrumental in creating the Silicon Savannah to begin with.
Sahara Reporters, an online news agency that encourages people to report stories about corruption, human rights abuses and other political misconduct in Nigeria, was instrumental in the dismissal of several senior Nigerian government officials. Civil organisations, opposition groups and political parties all leaned heavily on Twitter and Facebook during Nigeria’s last presidential election. Technology will only have a greater impact on African politics moving forward.
Africa is also developing tech solutions that are enjoying global adoption. The first that comes to mind is M-Pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and micro-financing service that has become a case study for global digital payments systems.
BRCK, an integrated hardware and software company based in Kenya that designs and engineers a rugged, self-powered, mobile WiFi device which connects people and things to the internet in areas of the world with poor infrastructure, is being deployed in remote areas in the US.
The bottom line is that many of Africa’s tech innovations, developed to meet Africa-specific challenges, are driving previously unimagined opportunities in other countries. This will continue to develop in the future.
Another development we can expect is technology driving better governance across the continent. As citizens demand greater accountability and more transparency, they need improved access to information on government policy, what their rights are, and the tools to hold those in power accountable. Increased broadband penetration and smartphone use facilitate access to and sharing of information.
They also allow issues to be reported more effectively and efficiently. Instead of having to queue in a government department, or issue a complaint via the postal service, citizens can largely turn to the internet to do this, through Web sites and applications.
Technology is bridging the disconnect between citizens and politics. It is allowing citizens to hold authorities responsible, and is encouraging them to become more involved in the interests of their communities and their countries on the whole. As IT evolves and innovates, people across the continent will be able to harness the power or technology, and grasp its opportunities, to drive open societies and improved governance.