For some time now, the world has been progressing in an age best described as the information age. Information is the new currency and with predictions that the total information generated in the next half decade will double or even triple that which has been produced since the beginning of time, its value is only going to grow. The exponential increase in the nerve-like endings that digital information is being transmitted, processed, translated, reproduced and consumed is like an expanding web, connecting one person to the next and with the growing idea of the Internet of Things, connecting one thing to the next.
Overall, it’s all good news because it denotes progress. It maps out a clear way in which people all over the world have access to information which helps them understand the world and all its systems better.
But, what about the digital divide?
The exponential rate at which technological advancement is happening means the speed at which entities with access to information will pull away from those which don’t will be correspondingly as rapid. On a global scope, this advancement will manifest on both micro to macro scales. A city to another, a nation to the next and even, one continent to the other. So, while Africa has one of the most impressive rates of technology uptake currently, noone is standing still (and for the record, when I say Africa, I mean parts of the continent that are not connected).
The obvious enterprise potential on the web and in mobility have everyone casting their fishing line that way. Already, world economies have begun laying out plans over the next decades basing on technological advancement and this means there is a big challenge in bridging the growing digital divide.
Where is the opportunity for Africa?
According to the United Nations, with 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 (the youth bracket), Africa has the youngest population in the world. This same demographic, the world over, is where the greatest consumption of information is happening and while information systems are rapidly improving today, they are slowly but surely shaping new economies around inventions, services, resource management, trade and workforce utilisation.
The prospect for making up for the divide is intensifying the economics around technology for the world’s fastest-growing continent. This involves one key thing — and that is a change in perceptions on access. Being connected to the internet and hence, the entire world, needs to be viewed and treated as a basic human need such as food and water. Does saying this imply that being connected is as important as the other more immediate needs which sections of the continent face? Well, in a sense, yes. Primarily because in the future, technology will drive everything. We’re already starting to see how technology has overtaken the most important human activity – and that’s communication.
African countries are already taking great strides at this; with impressive mobile penetration rates being recorded across the board, it would be inaccurate to say that progress is not being made. Notably, Africans such as Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria have recorded 100 percentiles penetration and plus, each, over the last half decade. However, that’s not everyone – in order for Africa to be competitive, even the remotest places with the smallest connection to the economy need to be part and parcel of the effort. How? Connect every child, every development initiative, every government worker, every small to medium enterprise, every educational and health institution. Connect them all.
All in all, the biggest recommendation of this thought is that a more active and concentrated effort needs to be made to connect those parts of Africa which don’t have access. After all, tomorrow’s dream is made up of the stuff economies are being built on today. That stuff is information.