How Emerging Technologies Are Bridging The Digital Divide In Africa
Although digital access is still highly unequal in emerging economies, there is serious experimentation around emerging technologies happening in the background in Africa. Recent statistics suggest that Africans who use the internet represent only 11.5% of the global figure of internet users (with only about 527 million estimated internet users in Africa). When addressing the digital divide between Africa and the rest of the world these figures are not surprising, as more people are living without electricity than there are internet users on the continent. Only once this digital divide is bridged, will Africa start seeing a narrower income gap and equality to advanced countries – and emerging technologies are aiming to do just that.
Information is power. Herein lies the value of ICT services to emerging economies, as critical information which would otherwise not have reached marginalized communities could now be within reach to individuals to improve their knowledge, access to technology, decision-making, and their lives. Investors are seeing this opportunity in Africa and start-up venture capital funding has shown growth from a cumulative $185 million in 2015 that has sky-rocketed to $1.3 billion in 2019. Africa has not disappointed in delivering innovative emerging technologies through these start-ups, with successful ventures coming from Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa in sectors varying from fintech, to agritech, to healthcare.
While there is a great opportunity for advancement, there are concerns around infrastructure deficits, regulatory challenges and a knowledge gap that seem to keep Africa trailing behind in closing the digital divide.
How research can close the knowledge gap
One of these initiatives intent on extending knowledge to Africans is the social impact organization Saturdays AI. Its mission is to teach AI to empower individuals in a collaborative and project-based manner in more than 30 African cities. These programs include 12-15 sessions that are scheduled on Saturdays where individuals learn about the foundations of machine-learning, coding exercises to building end2end AI-powered prototypes. The aim is to focus on conducting research projects to build social impact and open source projects that could help advance the field in their communities.
Existing emerging technologies
Despite challenges such as funding issues, accessibility to global research opportunities and a lack of resource personnel, African innovators are harnessing the opportunities available to build solutions with emerging technologies to implement into several sectors. The Nigerian start-up cryptocurrency platform, Buycoins, has tailored a channel that allows Nigerians to receive and trade in Bitcoin and Ethereum by using the local Nigerian Naira currency. Another Nigerian innovation, Ubenwa, is a company that has created an AI system to analyze a baby’s crying to alert when it detects warning signs of baby asphyxia. It takes only 10 seconds to detect the world’s third-highest mortality risk for infants. Meanwhile, Agritech companies in Cameroon and Kenya are employing blockchain technology, AI and machine learning to monitor and reduce agricultural losses as a result from pests, helping to improve yields and to reduce farming oversight operations. Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile payment app from Safaricom has proven to be a resounding success for online banking since it launched in 2007. The fintech app now makes it possible for almost 50% of Kenyan subscribers to send and receive money via SMS without having to have a bank account.
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