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Bridging digital divide through analogue technology

digital divide
A number of initiatives have been unveiled in Kenya in bid to bridge this yawning divide. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Erick is a 24 year old graduate, hunting for a job like many other youths in Kenya. He lives in Wajir, owns a basic phone and has limited access to internet. This locks Erick out from rapid access to job openings posted online. In addition, Erick has minimal access to information and limited interaction with the global networks.

A study funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for International Development found that some young people in Africa are using smartphones successfully to access or create employment.

The use of internet has also become almost indispensable in economics, politics and development in the world. These technological inventions have spawned myriad opportunities that have transformed livelihoods and vastly improved services across the globe.

In addition, digital revolution has brought immediate private benefits, easier communication and access of information. This has consequently shattered barriers to international trade and interactions, creating a more connected global community.

According to a World Bank report, the number of internet users in the world has more than tripled in a decade, from one billion in 2005 to an estimated 3.2 billion at the end of 2015. This means that businesses, people, and governments are more interlinked than ever before.

These tremendous achievements are worth celebrating. However, these celebrations must be tempered by the realization that a big proportion of the global population, like Erick, are unable to enjoy the benefits brought forth by advances in technology because they live in isolated areas where modern communication gadgets are only a dream. Some, especially those in rural areas, are too poor to afford computers or smart mobile phones that are necessary to tap into the so-called information superhighway.

Out of the 7.4 billion people in the world, 4.2 billion, which represents more than half the world’s population, are locked out from enjoying the internet dividends, World Bank data reveals. The report says about 7 billion people are within mobile coverage, 5.2 billion of them have mobile phones while 3.2 billion people can access the internet. Only 1.1 billion people can access the high speed internet.

In Kenya, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimates that 26 per cent of the Kenyan population could access internet in 2016, a number that is echoed by the World Bank. This means that a bigger population of Kenyans, 84 per cent, cannot participate in the digital economy.

Kenya’s youth unemployment is the highest in East Africa Region, and for many youths like Eric, internet access is a vital component in the search for jobs, and prospects shrink for those without it.

For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere, there is need to bridge digital divide, especially in internet access, greater digital adoption will not be enough, says the World Bank report

The World Bank report further suggest that in order for a country to get the most out of the digital revolution, it must work on the "analog complements".

A number of initiatives have been unveiled in Kenya in bid to bridge this yawning divide. For instance, Kenya’s leading telecom giant, Safaricom, initiated M-Pesa mobile-money service that can operate on a basic phone prompting greater financial inclusion.

By the end of 2015, nearly 70 percent of Kenyan adults were active users of M-Pesa mobile-money services. Through M-Pesa, households and businesses have access to a digital wallet that can use digital payments and financial accounts to interact seamlessly and efficiently.

M-Kopa solar is another initiative that have left more 375,000 homes connected to affordable solar power in East Africa. In the M-Kopa model, consumers put down a small deposit for the solar panel and pay per use via a basic mobile phone every time they use the electricity generated.

Global Leadership Programme for Africa is also among the organisations in Kenya spearheading the push to reach out to the forgotten bottom million in Africa by coming up with innovative solutions that use analog technology that connect them to opportunities in various fields. The programme makes it possible for youth, who have no internet connectivity, to access fully funded scholarships, training, fellowships, workshops, grants and job opportunities through a basic phone with SMS capability for free. Internet connectivity is not required for one to benefit from the programme.

"We continue to build capacities of young Africans by exposing them to international opportunities abroad that would train them in key issues regardless of their internet connectivity, they only need a basic phone with SMS capability,’’ Says program lead Michael Onyango.

According to the report by World Bank, nearly seven of ten people in the bottom fifth of the population in developing countries own a mobile phone. The report adds that this population have the ability to reap the internet dividends if the analog complements are provided to them.

The World Bank report concludes that the unfinished task of connecting everyone to the internet-one of the targets in the recent approved sustainable development goals (SDGs)-can be achieved through a judicious mix of market competition, public-private partnerships, and effective regulation of the internet and telecom sector.