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Technology in Africa and how digital can help spur it forward

Technology in Africa

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution gathers pace, innovations are becoming faster, more efficient and more widely accessible than before. Technology is also becoming increasingly connected; in particular, we are seeing a merging of digital, physical and biological realms. New technologies are enabling societal shifts by having an effect on economics, values, identities and possibilities for future generations.

Many African countries have shown progress in the adoption and distribution of digital tools and media. However, there are still challenges in terms of digitalisation and digital media development in some of the African countries which as African youth need to address them.

Opportunities for Digitalisation in Africa

There are visible opportunities for African media to tap from the digitalisation process. One of the main opportunities is the digitalised African audience. The wider availability and penetration of smartphones has enabled the majority of the African audience to be on equivalence with digital developments across the world despite issues with access to and cost of the Internet.

The entrepreneurial spirit across African countries is another opportunity that can be explored regarding digitalisation in Africa. Despite not being widely observed within the communication sphere (marketing and public relations), digital innovations within the creative media sphere are taking hold in countries such as Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. There are several entertainment websites, software and games being invented by African technology enthusiasts and young innovators. It has yet to come to the mass media field but there is hope that it would be extended to marketing and public relations when media has become completely digital.

Africa is a young continent and its young population is highly tech-dependent, making any investment in digital communication/web-based communication or digital activity a profitable business and industry. According to a South Africa based media educator, “Africa’s young large young population means a large group of digital product and service consumers. It also means a large number of young digital innovators and entrepreneurs.” Not only would the local digital start-ups benefit from this opportunity by being able to conduct business internationally without leaving the continent but also international multinational companies. Chinese and European digital, satellite and telecom companies are focusing on the African market for this same reason.

Digital communication is used for economic and political development purposes. Initiatives and programs such as ICT4D and ICT4Peace are some of the greater cases the advantage of digitalization. The digitalization can benefit the economy or due to the usefulness of being digitalized, most countries in Africa could soon be dependent on digital tools and services. Politicians in countries such as South Africa and Nigeria are also using digital communication to interact, campaign, and mobilise their supporters. The sooner and the wider their countries are well equipped with digital capabilities, the higher political benefits they could earn. 

Overwhelmed by the dramatic changes that the new media has brought, many publishing companies and corporates in Africa are on guard, puzzled by how they can approach, integrate or manage the digital media development. African countries with more democratic institutions, liberalised and economically advanced such as South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya have shown better records of accomplishment of digitalisation. There are some digital communication start-ups and innovations by young university students but most of it is for and in the entertainment media sector rather than the serious digital corporate communication development.

In terms of opportunities, the digitalisation process and international digital communication investment can benefit a lot in the African continent. The population or the audience, especially the technology savvy youth, the economic-financial profit, high level of mobile phone availability per capita, the digitised/digitalised audience and the entrepreneurial spirit are some among many opportunities that digital communication ventures can tap in African countries. 

African governments ought to improve their telecom and network policies allowing the entry and competition of the private sector since it is when there are a fast broadband connection, high tech services and digitalised community that investors invest and economies prosper. International media support organisations and academic institutions should work on digitalisation advocacy and training programs for traditional communication and media company owners. This may lead to a change of behaviour, relaxing the defensive behaviour of communication and media company owners and allowing them to embrace and tap the benefits. Given the listed opportunities, the multinational companies should invest in Africa and finance innovative start-ups rather than offering it “aid”. 

The drive towards the digitalisation is supported by the availability of efficient networks. Furthermore, our prosperity as a continent is dependent on our ability to take full advantage of rapid technological transformation. This means that we urgently need to develop our capabilities in the areas of technology and innovation.