"In 10 short years, what was once an object of luxury and privilege, the mobile phone, has become a basic necessity in Africa." – Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, 2007
If Africa were a stock, the world would be looking to buy. With 16 of the planet’s 30 fastest growing economies, Africa is in the midst of a financial revolution that has brought decreased poverty, an expanded middle class, and record GDP figures. Despite this progress, critical infrastructure limitations are often cited as major barriers to the continent’s economic growth. President Obama recently targeted this challenge with his “Power Africa” initiative, designed to boost electricity access for African citizens. Beyond energy, many African nations also lack reliable communications infrastructures, which has historically hindered business and government operations in the region - but mobile technologies are changing that reality.
A mobile phone is often an African citizen’s first-ever Internet connection, transforming information access to everything from healthcare to banking to disaster recovery information. Mobility is a critical component of ensuring Africa’s competitiveness in the global marketplace, and to support the goal of a more connected Africa, earlier this year Microsoft launched its 4Afrika initiative. By 2016, 4Afrika plans to place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth, bring 1 million small and medium African enterprises online, and train 100,000 members of Africa’s existing workforce improve their technical skills. As my colleague Ali Faramawy put it in his initial blog post announcing the initiative , “our goal is to empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, their country, the continent, and beyond.”
Public safety has a critical role to play in this effort as well, as trade and investment activity tends to flourish in societies that are secure and stable. The good news is that the same technology that’s driving Africa’s economic resurgence is improving the safety of the region. In July, the Brookings Institution released a report on the intersection of mobile technology and public safety, citing advanced warning of impending natural disasters, improved communications amongst first responders, and real-time monitoring of crime patterns as just a few of the ways mobile technologies are creating more secure societies.
As Africa’s communications gap continues to close, and public safety improves, economic opportunity thrives. We strongly believe in Africa’s potential and would love hear from our readers about other initiatives driving positive change in the region. And for more information on the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative, visit: http://www.microsoft.com/africa/4afrika/