Russell Southwood edits an incomparable, and influential, newsletter on information-technology in Africa. He chiefly rides the wave of business in mobil telephony — and the intense competition among global hardware suppliers to sell their wares to African telcos. In a revealing new article, he examines the potential for a similar boom in Internet services. The African web remains underdeveloped and yet Southwood sees expansion around the corner, both from the bottoms-up and the top-down. Unsurprisingly, the biggest barrier to a web explosion in Africa is the very ubiquity of mobile telephony in the region. Who needs their own computer-to-Web connection when the mobile-phone networks with the Web also. Writes perspicacious Southwood:
“The Internet is the basis of Africa’s second wave of investment after mobile. It’s much smaller but the potential is considerable. Almost everyone wants to see the Internet grow but there are significantly different strategies when it comes to making it happen. The private sector is seeking to find the magic services and applications that will generate both users and money. Governments and their donor supporters look to provide improved services and efficiencies in their processes. Russell Southwood looks at the contrasts between top down vs bottom up strategies for the African Internet.”
In the end, urban Africa may become a test-bed for the merger of the computer and the phone, prefiguring the collapse of the distinction between information devices of various sorts. Thus, the tantalizing prospect exits in that in Africa technological conditions exist to spawn real breakthroughs that come first to the world’s poorest region and only later to the rest.
See Safaricom’s M-pesa money transfer service for proof that in information technology Africa can be on the cutting edge.