If you believe the hype, Africa is about to undergo a major digital revolution. Within the couple of months, four high-speed fibre optic cables, lain across the ocean floor, will join the continent up to the rest of the world via broadband. For a continent which has relied on satellites and dial-up, the promise of significantly cheaper and significantly faster internet connections is tantalising. But with the vast majority of the continent’s population still living in rural areas, many still without the basics of clean water and reliable electricity, how much are the much heralded connections really going to change life for the average African?
The first cable to be connected, Seacom, has already failed to live up to expectations, a month after it was officially opened simultaneously by the presidents of Tanzania and Kenya. Although the undersea cable, which hit land in Mombassa, worked perfectly, there wasn’t enough cable laid in Kenya to then spread out the benefits. (Our Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones is in Mombassa where the cable lands. Read his blog here)
WHYS is in Rwanda which boldly says it wants to become the Silicon Valley of Africa – an IT hub for the region. For a country which just fifteen years ago lost 800 000 people to genocide, and then saw two million people displaced, such bold ambitions may seem ill-founded. Rwanda is, after all, far more associated in most peoples’ mind with tragedy than innovation.
But the government here strongly believes it has no choice but to turn its country towards IT. Landlocked, with no mineral resources to speak of, the most densely populated country in Africa, the government openly says that its main resource is its people, and that’s what it has to exploit if it wants to get out of poverty.
We’ll be looking at how realistic that goal is, when entire districts still don’t have electricity, and a third of the adult population is illiterate.
And more broadly, how much can high-speed internet really change a continent? Faster downloads won’t erase corruption and terrible infrastructure… will they? Sim Shagaya, an internet entrepreneur from Nigeria who will be joining us on the programme, says that the internet will render the inefficiencies of African governments ‘irrelevent’. Hype? Or well-founded hope?