Twenty-three years ago, when former South African President Nelson Mandela spoke in Geneva at the International Telecommunication Union’s World TELECOM 1995, he underlined the importance of universal access to communication and information.
Mandela stressed the need to eliminate the divide between what he called the information-rich and the information-poor.
His words were echoed by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ITU’s Telecom World 2018, he mentioned the words inclusivity or inclusive at least 6 times in his 20-minute opening ceremony speech.
Information and communication technology is developing at an unprecedented pace sweeping us into a digital era, where information has become a more important resource than raw materials and energy.
The information economy is characterized by processing and developing data, instead of industrial production. Access to information is now essential for individuals’ development and national inclusive and sustainable growth.
The African Union Agenda 2063 has acknowledged the importance of digital inclusivity to bring the continent on the par with the rest of the world as an information society.
Many African countries have embarked on their individual digital transformation journeys, by providing government services digitally and expanding access to ICT to cover more areas.
However, there are still many people on the continent especially from rural areas which still lack basic access to information.
According to the GSMA, in 2017, the number of unique mobile subscribers reached the symbolic mark of 5 billion, with 3.5 billion of them using mobile networks to access the internet.
Despite this achievement, there are still 3.8 billion people who remain offline, out of which 1.2 billion are not covered by a broadband-capable network – the vast majority of this uncovered population lives in the rural areas in developing countries.
Africa is home to the largest number of developing countries. On average, 69 per cent of the African population does not have access to the internet, with many of those unconnected living in rural areas.
A few months ago I travelled to Zambia where I visited Mushindushi, a small village 300 kilometres from Lusaka.
There I heard that people usually climbed 2-story high ant hills to get a network to make a call. Due to poor coverage, locals don’t usually carry their mobile phones with them including teachers at a local primary school.
Since we were planning to cover the area, I talked with one of the teachers and asked him what he was expecting the future to be with adequate network and access to the Internet, he hesitated for quite a while without eventually giving me an answer.
This reminds me of a survey conducted by Facebook in 11 countries, which found that over two-thirds of people who currently offline do not know what Internet is, let alone how to benefit from this powerful tool.
By David Chen, Vice President, Huawei Southern Africa