Good News From Digital Africa
These days, no news is definitely good news. At the moment, Africa is off the global media radar, with cameras focussed on Europe and the Middle East. But out of the media focus, some really good news has been gradually developing.
Quietly, slowly, but surely, a digital Africa is emerging. When it comes to mobile payments, Africa is already the world leader, with more than 200 million accounts.
On the African continent, mobile penetration reached 70% in mid-2015. In less than five years, new submarine cables increased Africa's international bandwidth by 24 times. Back in 2005, Internet penetration was 20 times lower than in Europe. Today, it is just four times lower.
The numbers are impressive in many respects. But what matters even more is the atmosphere of 'realistic optimism' that prevails in Africa. Internet-driven growth is becoming a reality. It is no longer a mere possibility.
During my recent visit to the African Union in Addis Ababa (2-5 September 2015) I sensed this optimism when I met digital players, from Ministers of Telecommunications and Internet experts, to youth activists and digital entrepreneurs. They all felt that the Internet can help the continent to leapfrog in both economic and social development.
While optimism about the continent's digital future is strong, there is also a healthy dose of realism. Many countries lag behind, with an Internet penetration rate sometimes lower than 10%. Governance institutions are still weak.
African cyber diplomacy is in an early formative stage. The continent cannot follow the mushrooming number of global Internet negotiations.
In order to close this participatory gap, African countries try to draw upon all available digital expertise, from government, business, academia, or civil society. National and regional Internet governance forums are emerging as a place where digital policy expertise can be brought together and used to represent African governments in global negotiations. The African Internet Governance Forum was hosted by the African Union Commission on 6-8 September 2015.
Africa's quiet but impressive digital development deserves stronger voices on the global level. Africa needs to be at the negotiating table where digital policy is being shaped. This will benefit not only African continent, but the whole world. Africa can bring digital optimism, good news, and inspiring successes. The world needs more of these.