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Facebook has stated that it would be prepared to pair up with France’s Eutelsat Communications in order to instigate a satellite launch that will equip many regions of sub-Saharan Africa with internet access.

The satellite, entitled AMOS-6, is currently under construction and is said to be launched sometime this year. It forms part of Facebook’s Internet.org platform aimed at further developing mobile phone internet access.

According to Mark Zuckerburg, the satellite is said to provide coverage for major parts of Eastern, Western and Southern.

“In order to connect people living in remote regions, traditional connectivity infrastructure is often difficult and ineffective, so we need to invent new technologies.” – Mark Zuckerburg.

The Internet.com org platform provides cost-free access to simple web services, which places focus on job-listings, information regarding agriculture, healthcare and education opportunities, and Facebook’s social network and communication services.

Research conducted by the United Nations Broadband Commission reported that more than 50% of the world’s population still doesn’t have internet access, and there is a continuing decline in growth in the number of people with internet access.

Major African markets including Nigeria and Kenya make up nearly 20 million Facebook users – statistics show that the majority uses mobile devices in order to log in to their profiles.

The first African office was opened in Johannesburg, South Africa earlier this year.

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A non-profit tech company, run by owner Juliana Rotich, Ushahidi – which is Swahili for “testimony” has developed a robust portable device (the BRCK modem) that has a battery which can last for maximum 8 hours without charging, as well as the ability to change between ethernet, WiFi, 3G and occasionally even 4G.

This has sparked a significant amount of interest in more than 163,000 people, who saw Juliana Rotich’s presentation on “solving Africa’s internet access problem” using the company’s new product on TED Talk.

Access to the internet is a common problem that the Kenya-based company is faced with, and is renowned for crowdsourcing crisis information.

BRCK was initially designed in order to solve the company’s problems, as they were in constant need to be online yet were often unable to establish stable connectivity.

The video that was part of the TEDGlobal conference held in Edinburg, Scotland in June, catalysed admiration of the BRCK team for providing people in rural areas with a means to internet access despite harsh conditions.

However, one comment, posted by user Tify Ndanobi, defined the issue of internet access to other website users

Actually, the problem is not just connectivity, its price and limited badnwidth too” she wrote. “While most of you probably have unlimited bandwidth and rarely ever think of it, us in Africa have to be very careful with every page viewed, every video played.”

Indeed, internet access in Africa is some of the most expensive in the world. Recently, research conducted by Netflix found that bandwidth in Africa was almost double the price of Australian IP transit – which is the most expensive in the developed world.

Although it may not seem fair to group African countries together due to the varying of economic and political situations across the continent, analysts have said that it is facilities like electricity and water that become ensnared due to insufficient network infrastructure in the continent as a whole.

Internet World Stats – an international online market research company – has reported data that suggests less than 16% of African users have internet access. The key difference in Africa, however, is that private tech companies including Ushahidi and Microsoft are introducing fresh, unconventional ways to provide reliable, affordable broadband access.

It is said that, with time, Africa might bypass the global norm of depending entirely on conventional cable networks.

Les Cottrell, the manager of networking and telecommunications at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory wrote about evaluating Africa’s technological development in an article for IEE Spectrum, said that wireless access is becoming the default method of connection, even where fibre-optic cables are accessible – this has the potential to position Africa at the front line of internet technology.

Satellite vs Cable

Cottrell’s PingER programme evaluates how effectively the data is moving between different regions of the world in order to locate internet congestion.

The findings report that data rates to and from Africa in 2009 were similar to that of Europe’s 15 years before then.

Cottrell explained that dependence on fixed satellites is to blame. The signal is transferred to and from spacecraft that are located up to 40,000 km away – and therefore online applications experience notable lag and delays.

A company called o3B Networks is making efforts to minimize these effects by launching a set of low to medium-Earth orbit satellites in order to provide quicker internet access.

The use of new fibre-optic cables that are connecting capital cities across Africa have caused a decrease in costs and an increase in internet access speed. However, this technology is not available to those in rural areas.

Heavy Mobile Subscription Increase

The telecommunications industry has made sub-saharan Africa the fastest-developing mobile network market – with its well-established cellular towers across the continent.

It was reported by ABI Research that, at the end of 2012, 2G mobile subscriptions contributed to 62.7% of all mobile subscriptions in Africa. 3G accounted for 11% of the market; and other carriers including MTN Nigeria and Vodacom were most dominant.

The US-based company, Bello, said that the necessary infrastructure for internet access through mobile phones may be established, but cellular network data is still very expensive and has unreliable connections – particularly in times of blackouts.

‘Furthermore, entrepreneurs have brought up the issue that the use of 3G mobile protocol in applications and software is limited.

Librii founder, David Dewane, said that “broadband is essential to the modern web,” and that “we are sort of obsessed with the highest possible speed… and the high-powered computational tools. You simply can’t do that on a 3G network.”

Both Bello and Dewane are aiming to transfer those who rely on cellular networks for internet access, specifically those in rural areas, to more reliable and stable high-speed internet.

Home-Grown Plans

Bello has said that African entrepreneurs cannot afford to wait for the technology and infrastructure to arrive, and that they need to take advantage of the enormous potential that BRCK and other similar devices used to enhance the network possess.

The World Bank released a report in 2012 that focused on home-grown technology centres in Africa that have gone out into the continent and gained access to cheap online access or supported others who are doing it.

Even large-scale companies such as Google and Microsoft have been encouraging better internet accessibility across Africa.

Google has an initiative called Project Loon that entails the launching of solar-powered, high-altitude balloons to the border of space in order to increase internet access.

Microsoft took it a step further with their $70 million 4Afrika initiative, in which one of the projects involve the use of TV white spaces, as well as solar-powered base stations to provide rural areas with low-cost wireless broadband access.

Both Entrepreneurs and researchers have said that the issues with power and other requirements of the content will potentially become an obstruction to the functioning of these new home-grown efforts. However, there happens to be healthy competition and a symbiotic relationship that exists between the backbone cable links, the mobile phone network and the wireless broadband that can be used to combat the issues, according to Cottrell.

Cottrell also says that, “There’s no doubt that, for many years to come, wide connections, and fibre-optic connections will continue to be necessary,” he said. “But the distribution mechanisms on the site… that may change. No longer may one have to wire every building with copper cables to every desktop. As for who wins [between cellular networks and wireless broadband], I would hesitate to try and make a guess to what happens. They both have their place.”

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It has been a constant inequality battle for many years. Most citizens in less-developed countries do not have access to the internet – save for a small minority. The privileged have been in a position to use this access to information, tools and influential networks to exercise control over the rest of the countries. This has typically led to oppression over the majority in countries in Africa.

It is therefore highly necessary to mould our advances in order to address both local and international issues. This should come with the mind-set that knowledge and skills are not the needed aspects for a minority group to be able to make better rulings and decisions for the majority that could be done for themselves.

Africa is in need of a new model that will represent the fact that long-term progress and most ideal results will only be achieved when all people are able to actively contribute to their community, economic situations and to the rest of the world.

The #internet4all campaign is oriented around changing the current system of achieving sustainable progress and success by encouraging self-sufficiency in people, enabling them to be able to do more for themselves in all aspects of their lives. This change is at the core of the transformational make-up of the internet.

It is believed that there are five areas in which this change can be achieved and bring about transformation:

Improvement of Agricultural Productivity

It is stated by the World Bank that a simple 10% rise in access to broadband corresponds to a minimum of 1.38% rise in GDP growth.

Therefore, there is room for vast gains in Africa, as agriculture contributes to around 65% of its labour force and a third of the GDP.

Providing internet access to farmers could aid in educating them on improved agricultural methods, improved results and levels of income as well as introducing access to other financial services such as credit. It could also aid in better market transparency.

Innovations such as Esoko and Manobi look at market transparency and decreasing lags in the delivery of products. In many instances, they are able to increase farmers’ income by over 40%.

Financial Inclusion for the Remote and Financially Illiterate

There are highly beneficial opportunities available in major proportions of unbanked individuals for developing African-focused programmes.

There have already been various cases of success; 3% of Kenya’s GDP ran through M-Pesa, – a Kenyan platform for mobile money, and thereby introducing financial inclusion to almost 20 million people in Kenya.

Econet, in Zimbabwe 2015, saw $3.1 billion’s worth of transactions run through the Ecocash platform. This created jobs for 35,000 Ecocash agents.

Using the internet comes with reduction in the cost of transactions, which supplies more much-needed income. e-Commerce also has the potential to expand the reach of the African retail sector by increasing access to markets, information and technology.

Pertinent Academic and Professional Education

The internet provides an alternative platform of education for those who are unable to attend traditional classroom-based classes, either due to financial, geographical or gender-based restrictions.

Introducing universal internet access will significantly level out the learning environment, supplying access to quality educational resources, universal choices and enabling Africans to be involved on a global scale. It will also create an environment in which an individual’s income will not be the determining factor in what he or she may learn and how.

Advancing Passed Less-Efficient Healthcare Plans

Universal internet access will provide people in Africa with the means to train and educate the health workforce, enabling them to evolve their conventional labour-intensive and geographically-focused healthcare models. The use of further technologies brought by the internet introduces opportunities for the ability to provide services including remote diagnosis and HIV prevention education – this could consequently result in saving up to $188 billion by 2025.

Internet technology would significantly make the health systems more productive and effective by automating systems, enabling record-keeping electronically, improving data collection accuracy and further benefitting rural areas with better provision of health education and information.

Online Government Services Promote Adoption and Investment in the Private Sector

The enabling of automating revenue collection could produce productivity benefits within Africa to $10 billion -$25 billion. The Kenyan Revenue Authority has taken away the option to use conventional paper-based systems by making it necessary for all citizens who turn 18 to register online for their tax number. Several government services have also been moved online in South Africa, including car registration and notably, tax filing, which led to more than 99% electronically-filed tax returns in 2011.

Transferring government services to an online system allows better accessibility and lower cost benefits to use these services. Additionally, the use of these online services as the most effective system is a significant method in which to promote the enhancement of services and opportunities within the private sector.

It is believed by the Global Shapers Community that the leaders of Africa cannot ignore the power that widespread access to, and use of, the internet can bring. Providing solutions to the current barriers to this access will result in an indispensable return on investment for the country’s governments, economies, industry and consequently the whole of Africa.

 

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An internet provider has reported that several residents of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu are experiencing a “culture shock” due to the implementation of fibre optic services.

Africans-On-The-Web

Until this point, dial-up access or satellite links were the only ways to access the internet. Earlier in 2016, a threat from Islamist extremists.

al-Shabab, a group that is linked to al-Qaeda issued a command in January for the cease of internet services, stating that those who did not conform would be perceived as “working with the enemy” and would be dealt with accordingly.

Although the group was driven out of the capital in August 2011, it still has control over many towns and rural areas near the south and centre of Somalia, where a rigorous version of Sharia has been imposed.

As a response to this threat, 3G networks across the nation were shut down, but the scheme to implement fibre optic cable services has not stopped within the capital – the fibre optic connections have only been made available in Mogadishu.

People from surrounding towns have crowded in hotels and internet cafes in order to experience the quick services, where some got to see social networking sites and video platforms such as YouTube for the first time.

The difference in speed was reported to have been compared to the difference between “day and night”.

The development was also said to have been a relief for those who had recently returned from the diaspora; and was a huge boost for the country that is recovering from more than 20 years of war.

Furthermore, it was described as being a “culture shock” for those who had never left the country.

All aspects of life are said to be positively affected by the change. Each time a fibre optic cable is connected to a country, they see their GDP increase because of the decrease in costs of communication.

However, the present security circumstances will prevent the implementation of fibre optic services in other areas of the country.

Somalia has had clan-based dictators, rival politicians and Islamist extremists fight for control over the country since 1991. This has allowed lawlessness to proliferate. The government has been backed by the UN and an African Union force in battling al-Shabab, as the group wants to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.

 

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It has been reported by the UN and other international charities that up to 50 million Africans will be in need of food by the end of the year as the El Niño-caused crisis intensifies. Most parts of southern and eastern Africa have experienced a second year of drought in which crops have failed, water supply has been scarce and food prices have soared. This has left 31 million people in need of food; and a further 20 million are predicted to potentially run out by the end of the year.

Additionally, the UN reported 10 million people in Ethiopia were at risk of starvation due to floods and drought.

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The harshest case of El Niño that has been observed in 30 years was anticipated to begin to cease as the equatorial waters in the Pacific region cooled down and resolved back to normal temperatures. Its effects, however, were to be suffered for many additional months, according to the World Food Programme.

The collective impact of the El Niño phenomenon has created one of the world’s biggest disasters for millions of people, yet the crisis is receiving little attention” stated the UN’s humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien. “The numbers are staggering. One million children in eastern and southern Africa alone are severely acutely malnourished, and across southern Africa 32 million people will need assistance and that figure is likely to increase“.

The UN envisions that the peak of the crisis will occur between December and April 2017.

Seven of South African’s nine provinces, along with Malawi, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola, Swaziland and Madagascar have declared national emergencies. Other countries who have been severely affected include Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana and Somalia.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has asked for foreign aid in order to purchase food, and Malawi is presumed to declare that around half the population will be in need of food aid by November. The price of Maize has increased by 60% over main portions of the region within several months.

In Syria, 7 million people, along with 10 million in Ethiopia and 14 million in Yemen were also desperately in need of food – reported the UN. Secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Elhadj As Sy, donated $110 million after being in Malawi and Zimbabwe.  He said that “We cannot describe enough how dire the situation is“.

In Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, the World Food Programme country directory Abdoulaye Balde said: “The situation is critical. We are at the point of no return.”

There are increased fears that international donors will not donate enough in time to purchase and distribute food. Their concerns are that the Syrian civil war and refugee disaster are putting unpredicted pressure on foreign aid. $1.5 billion has been requested, but less than 25% of this has been given.

The senior adviser to the UN’s children fund, SHadrack Omol, has said that “The window for responding in a meaningful manner is closing rapidly. The concern is that slow-onset emergencies, like the one that is being dealt with in southern Africa, do not get adequate awareness as they creep up on us.”

Britain has donated around £150 million since July 2015 in order to help countries in Africa that have been affected by El Niño. Nick Hurd, the international development minister, said: “We cannot and will not stand idly by while millions suffer. Britain is playing a leading role in helping countries across Africa to cope with the impact of El Niño. Support for people affected by El Niño is important to Africa and also firmly in Britain’s nation interest.”