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Connecting Africa: How ICT is Transforming a Continent

Available in: 中文, Español, русский, العربية, Français
  • African mobile market is fastest growing in the world.
  • 17 percent of Sub-Saharan population has cell phones.
  • Bank and IFC lead Connect Africa initiative to extend ICT revolution to broadband for Internet; currently, less than 1 percent of Africans have access to high-speed Internet.

October 29, 2007—Africa has undergone a communications revolution in the last decade. Long queues for public telephones have almost disappeared and been replaced by the ubiquitous mobile phone. This simple technology has become a great social equalizer. For rich or poor, in cities or in villages, the mobile phone has become the basic means of communication for the people of Africa.

Talking about a Revolution

The statistics that reflect this revolution are nothing short of remarkable.

In the decade between 1995-2005, US$25 billion was invested in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector in Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly by private operators and investors – resulting in the phenomenal expansion of networks. This was the result of the opening of African telecommunication markets to competition, coupled with reform of the state-owned enterprises and the establishment of independent regulators.

For the last few years, the African mobile market has been the fastest-growing market of all regions, expanding at twice the rate of the global market. There are now at least five times more mobile than fixed-telephone subscribers in Africa.

By 2006, there were more than 110 million mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa. This means that approximately 17 percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa has a mobile phone, up from below 1 percent in the 1990s.

The Battle for Broadband

Despite this encouraging trend in mobile access, services such as Internet continue to be either prohibitively expensive (especially when compared to average local incomes) or not available at all.

The price of Internet access is significantly higher in Sub-Saharan Africa than in other regions of the world. For example, the monthly cost of dial-up Internet access in Sub-Saharan Africa is approximately US$50 per month compared with US$12 per month in South Asia. A basic 256 Kbps broadband connection in East Africa costs US$250-350 per month, compared to US$30 in Mexico, US$43 in India, and US$50 in Philippines.

It is not surprising then that high-speed Internet penetration rate is below 1 percent in Africa, compared to close to 30 percent in some high-income countries.

Connect Africa Initiative

To help tackle this challenge, the World Bank Group is joining forces with the International Telecommunication Union, the African Union, the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development, and other organizations to support the Connect Africa initiative. This global multi-stakeholder partnership aims to mobilize the human, financial, and technical resources required to bridge the gaps in information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure in Africa. The ultimate goal is to use affordable connectivity to stimulate economic growth, employment, and development throughout Africa.

The Connect Africa initiative will be officially launched at a Summit of Leaders in Kigali, Rwanda,  October 29-30, 2007.

Committed to Africa

As the largest multi-lateral financier and provider of policy advice in the field of ICT in developing countries, the World Bank Group is committed to working with both Government and private sector partners to extend access to ICT.

Over the past decade, the World Bank has provided advice and technical assistance on sector reform in 30 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including seven post-conflict countries.

Since its first investment in the cellular sector in Africa in 1991, IFC, the private sector arm of the World
Bank Group, has mobilized around US$1 billion for cellular operators in over 20 countries in Africa, about half of which was arranged with other financial institutions.

Some of the ICT initiatives and investments in Africa supported by the World Bank Group include:

The Way Forward

Much remains to be done and the next major challenge in the ICT sector in Africa is improving the broadband infrastructure and delivering affordable and advanced ICT services to all.

“This access gap must be addressed before Africa can be connected to the globalized economy and use ICT to improve public services, overcome poverty, and enable regional integration,” says Robert B. Zoellick, World Bank Group President.

If this can be achieved, it will complete the ICT revolution that Africa has begun.

“This access gap must be addressed before Africa can be connected to the globalized economy and use ICT to improve public services, overcome poverty, and enable regional integration,” says Robert B. Zoellick, World Bank Group President.

If this can be achieved, it will complete the ICT revolution that Africa has begun.





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