Google Report: Infrastructure is critical for the realization of the Impact of the Internet in Africa

Elijah Kitaka

At an event yesterday organized by Mobile Monday Kampala and Google at Sheraton Kampala hotel attended by Tech enthusiasts, developers, internet entrepreneurs, Mairead Cahill, the keynote speaker from Dalberg laid out the “good, the bad and the unfulfilled potential ” of the internet in Africa based on a report her company conducted on behalf on Google that surveyed  more than 1300 businesses, including nearly 1000 SMEs and extensive interviews with experts across Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Nigeria.

The report intends to help policymakers capture the potential of the Internet for social and economic development – to help them understand how their constituencies already use the Internet, where the opportunities lie, what future potential for social impact the Internet offers, and what their countries need to get there.

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From the report, she noted that there’re two key pillars that provide the basis for a well-functioning Internet economy: “core infrastructure” and “conditions for usage.” Core infrastructure includes aspects of the enabling environment – both physical infrastructure and characteristics of the business environment, such as mobile and Internet coverage, electricity, availability of skills, education levels, and perceptions of corruption. Conditions for usage include those that influence access, awareness, availability and attractiveness.

According to the report,access is still a major challenge with only 20% of Africans online! In the continent where infrastructure — in this case electricity is still walking on “crutches”, its not hard to see why this is the case. Also she noted that “pilots” who should be pioneering the internet boom on the continent are not moving to scale. While we’ve seen success stories such as Nigeria’s Afrinolly — an App that lets you watch African movies, trailers and short films produced in the African movie markets and Jumia – the leading online retailer in Nigeria,  the majority of pilot projects either can’t scale or simply don’t survive their first year in business. Then there’s the issue of policy makers not recognizing policy as a cross-cutting enabler of ict and innovation on the continent.

Under what she termed as “unfulfilled potential”, countries that wish to reap the internet potential for social and economic gains must continue to invest in infrastructure. Currently, there’s minimum investment in the core infrastructure on the African continent.

As a way forward, the report recommends;

  • Access: continue to invest in infrastructure

  • Impact: look toward payment platforms that can boost online transactions

  • Ecosystem: further invest in understanding the policy environment…and what drives (or inhibits innovation)

You can download the rest of the Dalberg report from the impactoftheinternet site. In the meantime though, you can tell us what you think of the state of the internet in Africa and the way forward in the comments.