The Comboni Magazine, Nigrizia, talks in an article about the large investments underway to cover all of Africa with internet services. A way to create development or to point to a new market? Interview with Antonella Sinopoli: “We hope this process will help above all the youngest generations”.
Always attentive to the African continent’s events, the Comboni missionaries’ web site Nigrizia, in an article by Antonella Sinopoli, speaks about how large investments are underway to wire the African immense territory to allow the use of network for the whole population, especially those 700 million Africans who have never had internet. Today everything goes via the internet and it is important for Africa to be connected with the rest of the world. The journalist, in the interview granted to Vatican Radio - Vatican News, talks about this mega project casts both light and shadows.
Antonella Sinopoli, what to say about this coming involvement of the African continent in the web world?
Let's say that the web world has been taking particular interest in Africa in recent years. Actually, there has always been a great deal of interest on the continent, as regards the exploitation of resources in the past, and today even as regards slavery and colonization.
Two elements make us look at this continent with particular eyes now: first the emigration phenomenon, second the digital investments. Today all real achievements go through digital and therefore, these billions of euros or dollars investments are the great challenge of the future.
Digital is still a virgin land on the African continent, where large companies can play the development card. We are talking about billions in order to wire up the continent, that is, to connect the people who live there with the whole world. Then we would see how much this will be an advantage for people or how much it will represent only a real business for the web giants.
So, do we look at the African continent more for having it in communication with the rest of the world or more as a market to exploit it?
The main motivation is to connect the continent and therefore to fill a gap which still exists. We recall that 700 million citizens of Sub-Saharan Africa are still not connected to the network. These are truly exceptional and absurd figures since we are constantly connected and doing everything on the internet.
There is also another fact that may seem strange: the internet distribution reaches only 11% of the whole continent. Therefore investments in this sector appear indispensable, because finance, education, health, information, everything goes through the network. Insofar, then some paradoxical things become clear. Not only do these projects aim to reach those people, but also to bridge a gap that is of an economic nature. Many people in Africa cannot afford the connection to the network because it is very expensive. Therefore, on the one hand, there is this natural desire to do business on the part of those great giants, on the other there is an attempt to bridge this gap and arrive in those absolutely disconnected rural areas, and even more significantly lower the costs of the connection.
Considering Africa as a market, does it mean that there would be a global improvement for the continent with positive repercussions on emigration, health care and other sectors?
Certainly there will be. Let's consider that Africa is young: 40% of the sub-Saharan region population is under the age of 15 and about 60% is under the age of 25. The increased connection is going to help these younger generations network and connect with the world. Everything is done through the network. This is also very important for communication. There are still many isolated areas even though Africa is partially already connected and this already connected Africa is made up of young people, of professionals, of a world of information and African journalists who are working to bring about a new narrative on Africa. This is very interesting.
I would also like to point out the internet negative implications. We know, internet is power and is very scary too. There have been and there are many cases of network suspension by some regimes during electoral periods or during popular protests. These investments will certainly not avoid this phenomenon. Then there is another interesting fact to mention; what will become of all the data collected by these large companies that are already opening data centers in Africa? These are aspects to keep an eye on. However, these investments should be on their way during this year or at the latest during 2024. We hope that by that time, the pandemic will be a problem overcome and therefore this better Africa’s internet connection, in some way, will help the rebirth of the continent in a time where, precisely because of the pandemic, life is very hard.
Are there other aspects to highlight?
Another critical element in which the web giants, who are investing or are about to invest in Africa to wire the continent, to increase Internet speed and reduce connection costs, is that - even today - over 600 million people in the sub-Saharan region do not have access to electricity. Of course, it is governments’ issue to face, but it is certainly a paradox suggesting that, until it is resolved, it would be the middle and wealthy classes, large companies, who will find advantage in a more widespread and functioning network.