Backlight: Access to Africa

Backlight Current Affairs & Politics Human Interest Society & Culture
Africa, Internet
Bregtje van der Haak
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The urge of technological giants to connect everyone and everything literally has no limits. Google wants to use balloons to form a shield around the planet and Facebook is experimenting with drones and a free Facebook app for mobile phones. At the moment, Africa is the continent with the most ‘white spots’ on the map: places without internet or mobile phone signal. There, however, developments have accelerated. Africa is joining the traffic on the digital highway.

For the twenty-first century internet is what electricity was for the nineteenth century. The urge of big technology companies to enlarge their market and connect everyone and everything literally has no limits. Africa still is the continent with the most ‘white spots’, places without internet or mobile phone signal, but it also holds the biggest promise. More than 80 percent of all African households have mobile phones and in some of the 54 countries on the continent half of that number are smartphones. VPRO Backlight observes how Africa gets connected and follows a number of people who deal with this passionately.

The people who live in the Parkhurst area of Johannesburg already have the fastest internet connection in the world because they want to organise their street’s security with very accurate HD cameras. The iHub in Nairobi is home to 150 start-ups. Some of them are developing an app that makes crowd information about public transport accessible. And in the north of Kenya old-fashioned radio waves are used to bring free broad-band internet. In principle, this method can be used anywhere in the world and it costs practically nothing.

The African continent is a laboratory for all possible solutions. High-tech as well as low-tech pioneers come here to try their luck. Can Africa be a forerunner in the world of the future that is one big network?

Featuring: Achille Mbembe (philosopher), Juliana Rotich (iHub Nairobi), Robbert Mica (Outernet), Bob Collymore (Safaricom CEO), Isis Nyong’o (former director, Google Africa) and Louis Otieno (Microsoft4Afrika).