The humble sms has revolutionised life in Africa. These days, remotely-based health care providers can register patients via text message. Mobile banking has enabled people without bank accounts to store money on their phones, and send smses for immediate cash transfers at substantially lower costs. Fishing villages can receive weather updates and keep their people off the water when conditions are dangerous. Not for nothing, but the march towards socio-economic development has turned into a run.
Mobile data is capable of spurring that run to an even great speed. If only African governments would do a bit more.
Mobile needs better infrastructure
The mobile phone is the main way people in Africa connect with the internet. If that fact is to translate into significant economic growth, they’re going to need better infrastructure to play in.
Governments on the continent have to do more to give it to them. In 2012, Moneyweb reported that African governments were hindering telecoms’ progress by not selling more bandwidth to mobile phone operators. The news source listed “a lack of motivation, know-how and money to auction more bandwidth” as problems. Three years on, and a Business Day Live report references some significant progress governments have made. Speaking with the publication, Africa director of GSMA, Mortimer Hope, said “many governments across Africa have developed broadband plans. The issue is that those plans very often just sit on a shelf, not being implemented.”
**What happens if there’s better infrastructure?
**With a final push from governments, the internet’s potential to improve conditions across many sectors in Africa will kick into an even higher gear. And with the price of mobile phones continuing to come down, this potential is especially apparent.
In education, students could save costs by studying through online universities, and using eBooks. In governance, the internet’s capacity to improve citizen engagement through social media could flourish. And in entertainment, the demand for digital video content means broadcasters and media enterprises could get new, online platforms to showcase and monetise their work.
The stage is set.