Digital Aid in Africa with Steve George-Hilley

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November 2, 2016 by Author

Africa is a continent beset by economic, social and political challenges. Poverty and corruption have blighted its future but mobility is beginning to transform its prospects creating new routes towards a digital economy. Africa Accelerate interviews speaks to Steve George-Hilley on how technology is transformation economies in the continent and helping to improve lives.

International development is long associated with aid funding, volunteer work and charity projects but an exciting new trend is emerging that will re-write this assumed definition. New forms of development are focussing around the need for economic stability and the implementation of aid schemes which provide a sustainable financial future to lift citizens out of poverty through work, engagement programmes and enterprise.

Steven George-Hilley using mobile technology in Kenya

The mobile industry in Africa continues is growing at a rapid rate. Back in 2015 there were 367 million subscribers to mobile devises in the continent giving the population instant access to financial services and connected communication across borders.

As a volunteer who has worked in Africa, Steve George-Hilley has seen the numerous mobile devices being carried and used by citizens in Africa. He says, “You travel along the roads, villages and through the markets and increasingly you see people of all ages logging onto handheld devices and making calls.”

So why are the people of Africa increasingly investing in technology despite the crisis of poverty and low standards of living? For many the idea of adoption of mobility in a continent so lacking in infrastructure seems illogical and at odds with the perception of issues facing the country, often portrayed in the media.

One reason is the sharp fall in device prices which means more and more people can afford to buy a mobile and use it regularly. It has been estimated that there will be around 400 million new smartphone connections in the continent of sub-Saharan Africa by 2020 at this time the base of users has been estimated to reach over half a billion.

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Kenya – a country on the rise

The downside to the increase in users is the change in subscriber growth rates are set to slow down in the immediate coming years. For example growth in the second half of this decade set to be around 6 per cent compared to 13 per cent in the first half.

It has been estimated that just under half of the population will have subscribed to a mobile service by 2020, highlighting the challenges that remain in bringing connectivity to a troubled continent where connectivity adoption is an aspiration for many.

But increased mobility can also trigger a new wave of employment across the region, one which has been hit hard by terror attacks and a rise of Islamic extremism.

Data shows that the mobile industry remains a key driver of economic growth and employment across Africa, making a critical contribution given the population growth and high unemployment levels.

The wider mobile ecosystem 5.7% of GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2014, this relates to a contribution of just over $100 billion in economic value.

With tourism decimated by flight bans for many European and US destinations in countries like Kenya due to the activities of terrorist organisations such as Al-Shabaab, Africa must fully embrace this new connected economy for jobs, training and growth.

The mobile ecosystem created by this new wave supported 4.4 million jobs in Africa back in the last two years and is expected to reach more than 6 million by 2020. This in turn provides funding for key government services and the public sector with $15 billion raised in 2014 in the form of general taxation, which is set to rise to an eye-watering $20 billion by 2020.

This extra money will smarter governments, and better services for citizens and provide more support for Africa’s citizens in the long-term.

So where does the future lie for Africa and can this new digital mobile network transform the future of the continent? It seems unlikely that significant change can happen overnight but the new technology infrastructures in place through increased mobility are laying the groundwork for Africa’s future.

“There are no quick fix solutions,” comments Steve George-Hilley “But this developing mobile economy is a step in the right direction.

So in conclusion, Africa’s challenges remain but its uptake and ability to embrace mobile technologies are the beginning of something new. The social media age of digital entrepreneurship and advancement provide the continent with an endless opportunity to create new jobs, growth and transform lives.

Africa may be a continent in poverty but it is also a fast developing powerhouse of innovation and could well represent the future  marketplace for businesses seeking to reach new customers and open up offices in Kenya, Tanzania and Gambia.

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