Caution: This blog is not as positive as usual! (Editor’s Opinion)
Inventive Africa tried its best to be positive about Africa and the potential of African innovation. It is not hard to be positive, because there are so many good news stories around the continent about inspiring inventions. There are advancements across sectors. Health care methods are being transformed, the energy sector is being transformed with solar finding new ways of servicing those who are off the grid and people have greater access to information and educational material with various software and hardware solution.
Many of these innovations require internet access and mobile technology. For people to get online and take online degrees, or have a health conditioned diagnosed remotely, to simply have access to relevant information in order to protect your rights, or not be cheated, mobile phones and access to the internet are vital. The spread of access to the internet has been quite remarkable across the African continent. But despite that the continent still lags behind much of the world. In order for people to make the most of in many cases life changing innovations, they more need access and that access should be affordable.
Affordability is a big problem. Prices have been coming down for both calls and data, but for much of Africa’s population it is simply not possible for them to afford. And there is another mysterious phenomena, which is effecting many who have package data plans, and it has been happening for a decade. Data is strangely going missing. I remember 11 years ago, while studying in Ghana, I used to get a package worth 1 gig of data a month. Because of Skype usage, often that data would not reach the month, but sometimes, I seemed to have less data in the morning, than the night before.
Losing a few Megabytes was not so much of a big deal, even though it was irritating, but recently I have heard of people losing many gigabytes of data when they are taking every precaution with security of their passwords, and there is no chance that their computer or mobile phone is sucking data in the background.
There are various problems that this causes. Firstly, it means that their is often an underlying feeling of mistrust when it comes to the internet. If people can’t trust the internet, they are more likely not to make use of it. Secondly, for small businesses especially, they can’t afford to be losing this amount of data on a regular basis.
Small businesses require the internet for many reasons. Whether communicating with their customers, advertising on social media, or liaising with suppliers, all over the world this has been made easier with internet access. Africa needs it’s small businesses to drive change in the continent. Whether they are small hold farmers researching the price of their crops in the local market, or manufacturing companies exporting their goods, it is vital we support our small businesses.
Now, I have no idea whether the missing data is a ploy by telcos to make more money, or it is just a bug in some systems, but there needs to be more digital support for small businesses. Small businesses should have their data usage subsidised to enable them to run their businesses efficiently. Rather than worrying about how to pay their internet bill, they should be concerned with developing their companies and boosting their economies!
If we are to push innovation in Africa and take the continent into a leading role in the digital world, we need to support small businesses in digitising. We also need to make sure that life changing services, that rely upon mobile internet, are freely accessible by the masses.
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