Digitization in AfricaLiquid Intelligent Technologies (LIT) is “a pan-African technology group.” The group was established in 2005 and spans 14 countries, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. LIT provides custom digital solutions to private and public businesses across Africa. LIT hopes to utilize its fiber infrastructure to accelerate the accessibility of new innovative technologies and propel digitization in Africa.

LIT’s Impact

Digitization in Africa is vital for the continent’s economic growth. LIT’s extended expansion across 14 countries provides connectivity to small businesses, enterprises and government entities. This enables productivity through several digital solutions that cater to each of their needs.

LIT’s fiber infrastructure reaches more than 100 million people across the continent. This complex network creates new, innovative opportunities by providing accessibility to businesses and individuals across Africa and accelerating the continent’s digital transformation.

In 2021, LIT succeeded in deploying 100,000 kilometers (around 62,000 miles) of fiber infrastructure across Africa. This milestone makes LIT the “largest independent fiber network provider in emerging markets globally.” LIT plans to further accelerate digitization in Africa and create unique opportunities through digital inclusion.

LIT’s Other Achievements

  • LIT has provided a high-speed fiber network connection in the city of Mbuji-Mayi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, allowing access to three million people for the very first time.
  • LIT has enabled 4G connectivity through “1,500 new mobile network operator tower connections.” It is currently preparing to implement 5G technology, which can reach a speed of up to 100 times more than 4G.
  • High-speed internet has basically been absent in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past decade. The country’s internet access is so limited that it ranked 145th in the world for internet access. LIT’s new extensive fiber infrastructure will allow the DRC to digitally transform along with the rest of Africa.

Broadband Access is a Basic Necessity

Broadband (high-speed) internet access is considered “a basic necessity for economic and human development in both developed and developing countries.” However, only about 35% of people in developing nations have access to the internet in stark contrast to 80% of people in developed economies. The goal is to provide high-speed internet access to all, particularly in rural areas.

The “digital divide” in internet and technology access disproportionately impacts rural areas and the impoverished. Higher internet access in cities compared to developing rural communities hinders shared prosperity and blocks “pathways out of poverty.”

Solving this problem could provide “millions of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue” in the years to come. According to the World Bank, increasing internet access from 35% to 75% in developing nations could add up to $2 trillion to their “collective gross domestic product (GDP).” Furthermore, this increase in internet penetration could establish more than 140 million jobs globally.

Access to high-speed internet boosts the economy. It is an essential tool for basic services such as education and healthcare. Further, it provides more opportunities for women’s development and enhances “government transparency and accountability.”

Bringing High-Speed Internet to Africa

The internet plays a vital role in allowing access to educational resources and providing knowledge sharing for students and their teachers. Africa only has a 20% internet penetration and LIT’s mission is to increase this by providing opportunities with its extensive fiber network and accelerating digitization in Africa.

Nic Rudnick, group CEO of LIT, tells Gadget magazine that “By providing access to information, connecting people to businesses everywhere and opening up new markets, the internet can act as an enabler of economic activity and an engine for information sharing.”

With the power of high-speed internet, LIT has helped address the most crucial challenges within “high-potential countries” such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Digitization in Africa has never been more crucial in what is now a digital era. High-speed internet brings the promise of “peace, state-building, job creation and improved livelihoods.”

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

Digitization in Sub-Saharan AfricaThe COVID-19 pandemic has shoved decades of progress in mitigating poverty at risk and has already led to a great loss of life and long-term socio-economic damage in sub-Saharan Africa. The U.N. Secretary-General states that the global poverty rate is predicted to increase for the first time in 30 years, which will thrust 500 million people back into poverty. Implementing further broad-based digitization in sub-Saharan Africa can jump-start its economy and fight back against the plunging poverty rate.

The Roots of Digitization in Africa

Kenya has effectively implemented mobile money solutions and established a digital finance ecosystem. This is due to ethnic-based violence that took place in 2008. This turbulence curbed many people’s ability to travel safely, forcing them to adapt to a new way of transferring money without cash: Safaricom’s M-PESA. Swahili for mobile money, M-PESA is a service that enables its users to store and exchange monetary values through a mobile phone. It is a convenient resource that allows users to pay bills. It also allows them to access merchant accounts and create savings and digital credit accounts.

By 2014, M-PESA had more than 120,000 agents who offered guidance for customers unfamiliar with the process. Over 25 million Kenyans weathered the financial uncertainties exacerbated by poverty. Ghana is another country that has successfully developed digitization in sub-Saharan Africa. The use of mobile accounts in Ghana increased access to formal financial services from 41% to 58% in just three years.

Ability to Decrease Poverty

Tavneet Suri is an Associate Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. William Jack is a Professor at Georgetown University. They both collected 1,600 surveys of Kenyan households between 2008 and 2014. The surveys examined the effect of increasing numbers of services. The study showed that an increase in the number of mobile services, or agents, incited a rise in consumption and market participation.

Interestingly, the study also noted that female-headed households are utilizing these agents in a more enthusiastic manner. These households experienced a 22% increase in savings and improved ability to manage finances. Furthermore, 3% of women were driven to choose occupations in business or retail rather than farming, which is not as complementary to mobile transfers. Mobile money services are estimated to have the potential to lift 194,000 Kenyan households out of extreme poverty. They are also estimated to initiate 185,000 into the workforce.

The Impact of Expanding Access to Mobile Money Networks

Mobile money networks have spurred a financial technology revolution. It has led to a more modernized financial system for those living in sub-Saharan nations.  This comes with the bona fides of many developed economies such as access to healthcare. Furthermore, digitization in sub-Saharan Africa has led to increased access to pension schemes such as the People’s Pension Trust.

However, even though nearly 46% of global mobile money accounts are based in Africa, only 10 percent of all payments and transactions are done using technology, leaving substantial room for growth. Furthermore, digital infrastructure is often weak in remote or rural areas. This is due to the insufficient returns on capital along with firm regulatory barriers and expensive deployment costs.

Mobile Money Networks Can Elicit Economic Recovery from COVID-19

Small and medium enterprises that were able to digitally diversify have comparatively been far more resilient during the COVID-19 crisis. Therefore, the disaster caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has severely limited the movement of people and cash. This can serve as a launch base for furthered digitization in sub-Saharan Africa. The Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) has already slashed additional fees for mobile transactions and urged people to steer clear of using cash.  This is part of a plan to “accelerate migration” towards more widespread digital banking platforms. Sonatel, the main provider for telecommunication services in Senegal, is offering no fees for 30 days for digital payments. Meanwhile, MTN Zambia has generated a “no cash, no germs, go MoMo” campaign to encourage people to go cashless and transition to mobile money services.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, augmenting digitization in sub-Saharan Africa by 10% would cause a 2.5% increase in GDP per capita. The U.N. Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development approximates that a $109 billion investment is needed to achieve internet access in Africa by 2030. COVID-19 poses a threat to this estimate. The virus has provoked a $100 billion outflow from emerging markets. It is also important to avoid hastening the existing 34% gender gap in access to digitization in sub-Saharan Africa. Nonetheless, there are governments and companies that remain motivated. They are currently working to propel digital growth in sub-Saharan Africa in order to ensure equal access to connectivity and to mold more vivacious and thriving societies in those that are developing.

Natasha Nath
Photo: Flickr