Despite its explosive growth across the continent in recent decades, internet access has remained elusive to millions of Africans as economic growth across various states slows to a crawl.
The correlation between internet access and economic growth has been proven in many countries across the world. In Africa, the same is true. Access to the internet has created employment opportunities for thousands of people in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, three of the region’s countries touted for producing some of the continent’s most innovative entrepreneurs.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, a new breed of businesspeople is already cashing in on online trade platforms like OLX, Kilimall, and Jumia, which allow businesses and individuals to sell products and services via the internet. Internet access has also linked people to businesses and investors through sites like FundRazr and M-Changa, a Kenyan-based crowdfunding platform.
A study by Gallup, a US-based international consultancy firm, found that Internet access at home is far greater in more economically advanced countries, something African governments, policymakers, and economists should be keen to take note of.
It discovered that, across the globe, nearly eight in 10 people in countries where the gross domestic product (GDP) is more than $25,000 have Internet access at home.
In Africa, a United Nations study found that only three out of ten of Africans have internet access. This means that out of 1.2 billion Africans, a dismal 388.4 million have access to the internet.
In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a non-binding resolution condemning intentional disruption of internet access by governments.
The resolution reaffirmed that “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online”.
Over the past decade, several countries have adopted laws that require the state to work to ensure that Internet access is broadly available or preventing the state from unreasonably restricting an individual’s access to information and the Internet. Finland, Spain
Africa’s governments should do the same in order to provide millions of people with opportunities for employment.
According to World Bank statistics, 47% of people Sub-Saharan Africa live on $1.90 a day or less.
The Gallup study indicates that Internet access can help shift these numbers by providing governments, stakeholders and the general public with opportunities to alleviate poverty.
Truth be told, the opportunities for job creation are nearly limitless.
The report argues that Internet access is clearly a function of economic development. It states that recent trends in China demonstrate the same. It shows that demand for electronics and online services grows as living standards rise along with disposable income levels.
And though internet penetration has grown in Africa, it has left millions limited to fixed services where many can only access the web through their mobile phones. In Sub-Saharan Africa, not many people own laptops or computers, which a majority still see as luxury items.
Unlimited access to the internet is also limited to the elite in many parts of the continent. In Kenya, for instance, fixed cable and home internet services are few and far between. The pricing for such services has been reduced in recent years but the fees still remain prohibitive.
In such situations, governments should establish policies that make internet access not only widespread but affordable as well.
China’s rural population serves as a standing example since 11 percent of people living outside urban areas now own computers, according to the Gallup study. In Sub-Saharan Africa, less than 1 percent of the rural population own computers.
What this means is that there is an untapped market worth billions. African governments should move in to capitalize on this opportunity and see how empowering their people can help grow their respective economies.