Seven African presidents Tuesday backed broadband Internet to help the continent catch up with the rest of the world.
The leaders spoke Tuesday at the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, that was called to review progress made in increasing Internet access and using ICT on the continent.
President Paul Kagame hosted colleagues from Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Gabon, Burkina Faso and Mali.
He used the occasion to show off to participants drawn from across the world Rwanda’s just-launched super-fast 4G LTE Internet access, public Wi-Fi in parts of Kigali and thousands of kilometres of fibre-optic cable. The country has Internet connections as a standard requirement for new buildings.
Most of Africa has made progress though. In 2000, there were more fixed-line telephones in Manhattan, New York, than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. And in 2006, only two out of every 100 telephone lines in the world were found in Africa.
The proliferation of mobile telephony has however given many Africans access to communication and helped them leapfrog the technological divide, but not everywhere.
President Salva Kiir said South Sudan, which only became an independent state two years ago, has four licensed telecommunications companies but less than half the population has access to a mobile phone.
He revealed plans to develop a fibre-optic cable to link the country to the regional network that runs to the undersea cables anchored at Mombasa.
Overall access to broadband Internet has grown in recent years, especially after the completion of the sub-marine cables on the East African coast but it remains significantly below world averages, with less than two in 10 Africans enjoying regular and reliable access to the Internet.
By December 2012 that figure was 15.6 per cent, according to ITU, majority of whom accessed the Internet through their mobile phones.
The figures belie another reality; a divide within the divide, with most telephony Internet access concentrated on the outer margins of the continent, in particular north and southern Africa.
Participants at the summit organised by Rwanda together with the International Telecommunications Union heard that African governments must prioritise investment in ICT infrastructure.
“The railway lines, the sea lines of yesterday are broadband today,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said, adding that technology offers Africa a “great opportunity” to leapfrog the gulf with the developed world as well as its own internal divisions.
“President Museveni acknowledged the importance of ICT but noted that it must be tailored to solving problems on the continent. “ICT must help agriculture, industry and services,” he said.
African governments can increase GDP by as much as $235 billion over 10 years if they allocate more spectrums towards mobile broadband, according to a report from the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA).