28 March 2019
Yéroséo Kus (Afrik Eveil) & Amon Bazongo (Yanfoma)
In 2007, Steve Jobs transformed the telecommunications industry, and more specially the mobile internet market, by launching the first version of Iphone. Let's go back in history, to the origin of information exchange systems, the Arpanet, invented in the 1960s. Initially, two computers of the University of California exchanged information via a connecting cable. The early 90s marked the beginning of the era of the World Wide Web (www) until the 2000s, when the social web advocated the concept of sharing. As a result, the first blogs and social media emerged. In 2006, the semantic web gave meaning to data depending on context. Like other continents, Africa has its own development approach with regards to social media. There are definitely differences from one continent to another, and from one territory to another within the same continent. Looking at the course of Internet development on the African continent; a continent of opportunities, the following question would be logical: What will the Internet look like by 2025, on this continent of opportunities? Here is an analysis.
In 2018, Cambridge Analytica shut down, after it was accused of illegally collecting Facebook data from several users in order to influence the Brexit election campaigns in Britain and Donald Trump's election in the United States. This example sheds more light on the possibilities, including the obnoxious ones, that Facebook and the Internet in general, offer. In Africa where "development" seems illusory for some, the Internet is now an indispensable tool for development projects.
Technological innovations are common currency even though the use of the Internet is disparate and surprising. For instance, some countries have very fast Internet connection speed, even faster than in European countries. Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world where the broadband Internet is faster than in France, is a perfect example.
Internet in Africa is limited to Facebook, WhatsApp and Google
This contrast is also observed in other African countries. Some countries like Burkina Faso are disadvantaged by poor Internet network while others are developing their economy using the Internet. A case in point is Senegal with its numerous e-commerce platforms.
But in general, the Internet in Africa is limited to Facebook, WhatsApp and Google. For the majority, this is rather limited to WhatsApp and Facebook because very few do their research online. In addition, the cost of data is still an issue in this era of megabytes or limited connections (for a few days). This observation brings forth the question of what discussions with mobile operators should focus on: Should they focus on Internet access for the majority, broadband high-speed Internet for a smaller number, education of people on the use of other tools and possibilities of the Internet in their daily lives or on all these domains at once?
The Golden Age of Cybercafes
Development is pretty fast in Africa. In January 2019, the mobile phone operator Orange launched 4G internet in Burkina Faso. Not so long ago, we were in the era of cybercafes. These places, which are disappearing, would have survived with a makeover and some creativity, to render their services more attractive. Unfortunately, cybercafes could not compete with phone operators and mobile Internet. This was also true for phone booths, which did not thrive due to the rapid expansion of mobile phones.
Youths as a Lever for the Expansion of Broadband Internet
Looking forward, five years into the future, which might seem a very short time frame, we believe that broadband Internet will rapidly gain grounds on the continent. Such development will be fostered by the average age of Africans. In Africa, at the age of 26, one could feel old because the most of the population is under 25. The tech-savvy youths are the ones who actively contributed to the expansion of smartphones. They will still be the ones to foster the Internet ecosystem on the continent.
E-enterprise and blockchain are already good examples!
Soon, Africa will have the youngest and largest virtual and physical population (but not by 2025). This will be a great opportunity for any company with goals. The increase in the number of users will lead to a reduction in costs, increased bandwidth and a growth of online services.
By 2025 already, digital companies in Africa will emerge and dominate some of the American and Chinese conglomerates on the continent. E-commerce is already contributing greatly to this digital economy. In a few years from now, more people will be involved in e-commerce and other online services could be thrive, a situation which will transform the Internet into a giant space for e-enterprises, similar to a market in a popular African neighborhood. It is certainly in this context that BeogoLab, a digital entrepreneurship centre, in February 2019, launched a call for project proposals, known as Burkinabe e-commerce seeds.
Today, Facebook might be the e-enterprise platform, but tomorrow, other platforms will come into play and introduce innovations tailored to the needs of the African continent. Also, with the development of shared systems such as the blockchain, the block-lattice, the tangle, etc., the situation can change quite faster (in America and Asia as well). Though speculations are still going on as to whether cryptocurrencies should be adopted in the next 5 years, nothing would prevent an increase of people's interest when e-commerce starts using them as a means of payment. Yanfoma, a company, which provides technological services, is already doing so with its technology-centered trading activities.
Could Africans sell their data by 2025?
In addition to reliable technologies, the Internet of Things is more advanced on the continent. Development cards such as Arduino, Raspberry have caught the attention of electronics geeks. Just like on most continents, the Internet of Things is increasingly paving its way and helping in the storage of great amounts of data which could later be used by various branches of the Internet economy. These data could be sold to potential customers (interested firms) under well-defined conditions, provided that Internet users adequately own them. In California, the new governor stated, in February, that he was working out a dividend, which would be paid by technology companies to users, to exploit their data.
Whatever the case may be, the future of Internet in Africa is undoubtedly bright. Nevertheless, the early bird gets the worm”… and acts fast by adapting to changes. Unfortunately, Nokia could not do so! ..