Sub-Saharan Africa Digital Divide
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some of the world’s poorest and most marginalized people. More than 1 billion people, constituting more than 14% of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty in the region. A multitude of problems plague sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from disease to malnourishment and violence. The crux of the matter lies in its deep history of a developing nation hindered by imperialistic roots. Through the progression of time, it has become clear that there is one major obstacle in the region’s way to betterment – technology. In other words, a stark digital divide in sub-Saharan Africa exists.

Reversing the Digital Divide

As technology spreads over the developed world at a record rate, lesser developed and developing countries fall behind. Tech giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft only cater to major markets in the United States, China, Europe and India. As a result, the 14% of the world population in sub-Saharan Africa that can barely afford a basic cell phone, much less a smartphone, usually cannot access these technologies. Around 90% of children in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to a computer and around 80% do not enjoy a basic internet connection. Thus, the sub-Saharan Africa digital divide has emerged as a major source of its current predicament.

To make matters worse, the global COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue and revealed new technological problems. However, hope is on the horizon. New nonprofit companies and the aid of notable philanthropists around the world are hard at work to eradicate the sub-Saharan Africa digital divide. Due to this, the field of STEM is heating up as a hot prospect for economic and developmental opportunities. Here are three strategies that sub-Saharan Africa has implemented and can work to implement to industrialize and develop the region.

3 Strategies For Reversing the Digital Divide in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Making investments for a digital future. Investing money into digital-based infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa is a future-proof way of bettering the region. Specifically, the distribution of technologies like phones, computers, cell towers and adequate internet connections continues to be a major priority for organizations based in the region. A survey revealed that only one in 100 people on average have access to television in sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, this rate becomes only one in three when the sample size focuses on cities. The results of this survey unequivocally show that industrializing the region holds many positive results. In recent years, organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Computers 4 Africa have donated more to fuel this purpose. Computer drops for schools and other university institutions have also been a major part of this concerted effort. The results are showing. Since the early 2000s, internet penetration in the region has grown by a factor of 10. This increase shows the region drawing closer to bridging the gap of the sub-Saharan Africa digital divide.
  2. Creating new jobs in the Information Technology (IT) sector. Increasing employment opportunities in the IT sector is a major way to boost sub-Saharan African economies. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Jaishree Mahalingam, current project manager for AIG and former IT professional for Toyota in Dallas, said that “in the future, IT will have far more importance…[translating to] greater social mobility for many people who are interested in STEM.” For critics who argue against the viability of a proper university education system in computer science and IT, Mahalingam goes on to state that higher degrees like a Ph.D. are not necessary for a sufficient education. Instead, “a Master’s degree [is] more than sufficient in progressing in a career.” However, Mahalingam does acknowledge that there should be a balance in the education system, encouraging its teaching outside of high school because doing so allows “greater exposure to the field.”As for finding new solutions to address the digital divide, Mahalingam recommends “greater government investment into STEM schools and digitalization through banking and other mechanisms to help expand the IT field.”
  3. Tackling the finance sector through technology. As cell phone use expands in sub-Saharan Africa, more and more individuals look to the future of the financial industry. Now, banking applications that are common in the United States must transition over to another continent. Enter FinTech: the newest player in revolutionizing African financial technology. Currently, only around one-third of the sub-Saharan African population holds bank accounts. However, the ongoing mobile revolution has led to an increased demand for an easier money transaction system. FinTech allows for easy financial exchanges across countries in the region through a mobile platform. Additionally, it is not the only one of its kind. Startup companies like 22Seven, Nomanini, Cellulant and GetBucks are all growing in Africa as easy money-transfer digital networks. Collectively, they serve more than 45 million customers in Africa and hope to greatly expand beyond that figure. Mahalingam agrees that “expanding things like access to bank accounts would greatly add to the interest of millions.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is slowly digging its way out of the digital divide it faces today. With the help of several organizations, more emphasis on economic growth through STEM and new financial-based breakthroughs, the region is constantly facing more opportunities for improvement. By catalyzing a technological revolution in sub-Saharan Africa, the world is ensuring that its inhabitants lead more enriching, productive and prosperous lives for years to come. Technology drives the future; sub-Saharan Africa is taking one large step to embrace it.

Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr