How Access to Mobile Internet Is Ushering In A New Era for Africa

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As internet adoption becomes a reality in more African countries, the cost of computers is still something that the continent has not been able to fully deal with. Computers today are still quite pricey. Even though the urban African population can mostly afford to purchase a laptop, many in the rural areas cannot even consider it.

The idea of having low cost computing is something that has been tried by a few but, is not spreading as fast as it could. Here is why.

Computers for Education

In mid 2000, companies like Computer for Schools were well known for donating used computers from abroad to schools for learning. The organization has done well to stock schools which have access to electricity with computer labs, hence enhancing student’s ability to access computers. It is now the norm to have computer studies in most secondary schools.

Preceding the 2013 Kenyan general elections in March, the Jubilee Alliance (which subsequently won the elections) promised that they would supply laptops to all the students joining class one. This was their flagship project, underlining the importance of computing in enhancing the quality of education.

After the elections, the process to implement the project was met by hurdles, including the rejection of such technology by the teachers themselves. Even though this would have given students the much-needed chance to have good education, teachers had to be integrated, as they were the stewards of the project. Unfortunately, little was done on this side.

The idea of computing also goes hand in hand with electricity reach, which is poor in rural Kenya. It meant that the government would need to pull electricity to schools in the villages or use solar technology to power the gadgets.

But the biggest challenge was the government procurement procedures. Olive Telecom from India was selected to manufacture and deliver the laptops by last year. But after a long court battle, it was decided that the company did not meet the requirements of the tender.

Recently, the government announced that it would abandon this idea and implement computer labs instead.

There is an important lesson to be learned. Even though Kenya is moving fast in technology adoption, very many factors such as security, electricity connection, and collaboration with all stakeholders need to be taken into account to implement such ambitious projects.

Sean Loyless – Computer Education

Keepod

Another project that is seen to be making strides, albeit slow, is Keepod. Keepod is a project that aims to reuse old computers, using USB sticks with an Android OS to reboot them. Every user can have their own USB sticks, so they have a private computing experience even if they share computers.

The USB sticks cost US$7, while the old computers could cost as much as US$50. This makes computing for poor communities a reality.

Keepod has already created a hub in one of Nairobi’s slum areas, Mathare, where they host several reusable computers and admit the locals to surf the web and learn other computer programmes.

Their pilot project has been a success and could serve as a guiding example for peri-urban and rural communities.

Mobile Phone: The True African Computer

One technology that is greatly giving Africans access to computing capabilities is the mobile phone. It is well know that Africa is a mobile first continent. Internet enabled phones have helped Kenyans defer their desire to own a computer, instead browsing the major social sites and accessing news and email through one gadget.

In Kenya, 99 percent of users access the internet from a mobile phone. This has greatly opened up the access to information, and will continue to grow as more smartphone brands lower their price points.

The influx of Chinese brands such as Tecno, Infinix, and France’s Wiko have greatly driven down the cost of adoption for smartphones in Africa. Today it is not unusual to see majority of people walking around with what were known as high price smartphones only a few years ago.

For software developers in the continent, mobile usage cannot be underrated as it reaches more people than desktop and laptops.

Smartphone

A smart phone

The Benefits of Computer access in Africa

The benefits of access to technology in Africa should not be underestimated. Knowledge is something that drives every economy, and that is what access to computing gives.

Africa’s computer, the mobile phone, has acted as a source of information, education and communication at the same time. And this is increasing as more and more websites become mobile friendly. It simply means users can read, learn, communicate, shop, play games and do everything one could do on a laptop or desktop.

Mobile application such as TotoHealth and MedAfrica have helped mothers and the population in general to access important health information.

Currently, every bank in Kenya has the ability to use mobile money to deposit, withdraw and send money anywhere in the country. These developments have greatly improved the financial access to those who are in remote areas of the country.

The adoption rate of social media in Kenya and Africa as a whole has been fuelled by the mobile phone penetration, and now smartphone penetration.

Such penetration of internet and gadgets heralds a new era in Africa where we will see African-centric applications both on mobile phones and on desktops.

Moving to the next level

However, for Africa to have great applications and adoption, education, both formal and informal, is needed.

Kenya and its neighbouring country of Rwanda have been on the forefront to digitize government processes. Currently, the payment of some taxes can be done through the computer and mobile phone. Drivers can now renew their license online and pay with mobile money, avoiding the previous hassle of lining up and paying the fees manually.

The Nairobi Country government has also enabled parking fees in the city centre to be paid through an online portal by the use of Visa cards or mobile money.

Such moves steer the citizens to adopt and learn computing skills which eliminates waste of time. More education is needed for both senior and junior citizens in Africa but this could soon be achieved with proper planning.

High level education will also see market ready computer applications manufactured locally, and hence create a budding industry with the potential of generating employment for many people.

Access to computers can have a huge difference in the African continent. So far, we have seen economies grow, and more young people are getting access to job opportunities they would otherwise not have.

Bustling Kenya, Nairobi City

Bustling Kenya, Nairobi City