Giving Compass' Take:
- This article was originally published on urban.org on May 9, 2017.
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In Nairobi, Kenya, technological advances like Uber have brought positive disruption and significant benefits to consumers. The country has been called the Silicon Savannah for having hatched various technological innovations. But in some parts of Kenya, it’s not uncommon to wait for hours to get a stable Internet connection.
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In the capitals of Madagascar and Burkina Faso, where smartphone and computer ownership is still low, people have to go to cybercafés to access the Internet, usually on run-down computers with old software, and even then, connection speeds may be painfully slow.
Slow connection speeds and lack of Internet access aren’t just a hassle though, they’re signs of the digital divide that sets many African countries behind.
Sub-Saharan Africa lags furthest behind in Internet access. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 18 percent of the population had Internet access in 2015, compared with 87 percent in North American regions.
Access within sub-Saharan Africa is unequal. In Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, 48 percent of the population had Internet access. In Ethiopia, Malawi, and Tanzania, 9 percent had access.
Digital technologies promote job creation, boost economic growth, and improve government services. Greater access to technology increases inclusion, efficiency, and innovation.
Even with Internet access, language barriers prevent many people from taking these courses. About 75 percent of these online courses use English, which makes it difficult for people in non-English-speaking countries to benefit.
What exactly are these countries missing out on? To start, job creation, labor productivity and citizen engagement pushing for stronger government initiatives are just a few topics discussed.
The private sector can help close the digital divide. Facebook, for example, recently announced plans to use land-based and satellite technologies to provide better Internet access to African countries. But public investment and involvement will be necessary to reap the digital dividends.
Making the Internet more accessible and affordable should be among governments’ priorities, particularly in sub-Saharan African countries that lag behind the most.