By Daniel A. Sepulveda and Dean Garfield*
A topic repeatedly raised during the historic U.S-Africa Leaders Summit held in Washington, D.C. is the transformational role communications technologies will play in advancing a prosperous and peaceful world.
Thought leaders, luminaries, policy makers, and entrepreneurs from across the continent addressed the need for governments and industry to cooperate in the shared objective to unleash the cross-cutting force of information and communications technology (ICT) in Africa to enable improvements in every sector from health care to agriculture on the continent.
We hear their voices and we are prepared to answer their call. The two of us have worked with African leaders in our respective capacities as representatives of American industry and the American government. We believe, as do our colleagues and friends on the continent, that if the Internet is to fulfill its promise as the world’s single strongest platform for economic and social development, it will require Africa’s full inclusion.
And if Africa is to fulfill its promise as a continent — one billion strong, capable of leading and changing the world for the better — its people will have to leverage and build on the platform that is the global Internet.
We must work together, private and public sector leaders alike, to overcome the challenges of making access to the Internet available and affordable, as well as secure and inclusive. There is much good news and work toward that end. Undersea cables land in three times more places today along the coasts of Africa than they did three years ago, delivering much greater capacity at lower costs. On land, growing investments in fiber networks, Internet exchange points, and wireless connectivity are helping deliver a strong last-mile connection to a growing number of African businesses, homes, and individuals.
But with only 16% of Africans connected to the Internet today, there is much work, and much potential, for us left to fill.
Technology and investment will make it happen. Since 2009, the continent’s Internet-using population has grown from 79 million to 172 million, and is increasing at 20 million per year.More and more, African leaders are encouraging African governments and businesses to expand the use of ICTs to help address the greatest challenges facing the continent.
From health information to access to agricultural price data, to educational offerings and banking, ICTs are strengthening other sectors and have become foundational for prosperity. ICTs are now helping Africa to overcome its challenges in areas related to health and human development – such as communicable diseases, the public-goods aspects of having a well educated population, and access to clean water and sanitation.
Mobile technologies are enabling introduction and expanded access to innovative, new financial services in Kenya (M-PESA), school M-registration in Côte d’Ivoire, agricultural market information services in Ghana as well as tax filing services in South Africa, and sensor-based irrigation systems in Egypt.
This connectivity, fueling international social and economic growth, requires policymakers, industry, civil society, and academia to work together at the international, regional, national, and local levels to construct solutions to challenges and make the most of opportunities created by an interconnected world.
We are committed to that effort. We will marshal the forces of American industry and government to help make the global communications network work for everyone. And we look forward to partnering with our friends in Africa to accomplish this by listening to their needs, ideas, and aspirations, and doing everything in our power to make the future of the Internet and Africa a mutually reinforcing success story.