To escape poverty speedily, Africa needs robust telecommunications reform

Phumlani Majozi notes that only 29% of Africans are connected to the internet

A lot of what I studied when I was a young undergraduate student at Rhodes University and University of Cape Town, had to do with the field of information technology. How businesses, organizations of both public and the private sector, can optimize modern fast-paced technological sophistications to their benefit. By benefit, I mean maximized profits and business expansion.

Technological advancement has been the major driver of human development over the past centuries. Nations who rose from poverty to riches have done so because of the advances in technology.

Over the centuries technological advancement came in various kinds across civilizations. Globalization over the past decades maximized the benefits of technology all over the globe.

Like all phenomena in human history, technological advancement and adoption has been uneven across the world. That is not surprising, because across civilizations innovation and development have never ever been equal. Fernand Braudel, who was a French historian, and lived from 1902 to 1985 once said, “In no society have all regions and all parts of the population developed equally.” His words were true then and are still true today. Human society has never developed evenly.

With Africa lagging on technological advancement and adoption, in contrast to other continental regions around the globe, we are witnessing the reality that Braudel pointed out decades ago.

A shocking statistic I found when I was trying to understand internet connectivity in Africa this week, is that only 29% of Africans are connected to the internet – which is lowest in comparison to all the continents around the world – according to the International Telecommunication Union back in 2019.

We lag on the most important technology today that is the internet. That tells us that there is a lot of work to be done in the continent to bolster human development. Part of this very big problem is that only 47% of Africa’s population has access to electricity, according to The World Bank.

How fast we move forward on internet connectivity will be determined by the commitment to better change by Africans and their leaders; as well as the types of policy reforms the people of Africa adopt.

The key here is pro-market reform and investment in telecommunications, amongst the things that must be done. The investment must be both local and foreign. In countries where their people have low standards of living, with no strong finances to invest, foreign investment will be crucial.

One of the obvious things about the African continent is that it lacks competitive markets. Competition is very important for development. A robust, competitive market that controls prices can only become a reality if our economies are liberalized, and strong law and order are achieved. Many African countries lack law and order. The absence of effective law and order is one of the contributors to lack of investment in the continent.

Education and entrepreneurship are also key in creating a robust, competitive society. Education is not only a government function – it’s also a private sector function. We need to see strong growth of independent schools across the continent.

Now when we point out Africa’s shortcomings, we are accused of being always negative on Africa – which is not true. I am one of the people who have acknowledged Africa’s progress in the past decades. However, we must be honest to ourselves – that the progress – especially on poverty reduction – has been very small.

That we lag on most important things such as the internet explains our levels of poverty and destitution in comparison to other regions.

Blaming other civilizations for our slow progress at this point will not help us. Almost all countries were colonized in the world. All countries were once poor and destitute. We can also escape poverty with the right policies and mindset.

Telecommunications need robust reform – as they now power economic productivity in the world. Every African in every city and every village must have access to the internet.

There is nobody else on this planet who can bring speedy development in the continent other than us Africans. We should learn from other nations on how they exploited technology to escape poverty.

The continent does have potential for rapid technological advancement. In Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, fintech “is the sector that receives the most funding”, as Tage Kene-Okafor correctly wrote in TechCrunch in December 2021.

We need to see more countries getting more funding in fintech. But that will only happen if pro-market telecommunications reform, education and entrepreneurship take place. More Africans must be connected to the internet. Urgently!

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.