Around 75 percent of the population of East Africa currently do not have access to the internet. Yet, as the internet becomes more and more accessible through smartphones, business in Africa, the consumption of information and booking flights is becoming even easier.
Speaking at World Economic Forum in Kigali last month, vice president of sustainability and corporate responsibility for the Ericsson Group, Elaine Weidman-Grunewald said: “Rwanda has really been a rising star when it comes to digital connectivity. Many lessons can be learned from initiatives like SMART Rwanda – extending into what’s called SMART Africa.”
The SMART Rwanda initiative is in place in order to help the country move towards its vision of becoming ‘an information rich, knowledge based economy and society and an ICT hub in the region’. SMART Rwanda aims to help the country achieve its ICT for Development Vision, one village at a time. From this, ten sectors have been identified from which the initiative can most benefit – education, healthcare, governance, business, agriculture, environment, job creation, infrastructure, girls and cities.
According to 2011 estimates, about 12.5 percent of the African population has internet access. While Africa accounts for 15.0 percent of the population, only 6.2 percent of the world’s internet subscribers are African. As the internet becomes more available, Africans are using it in their millions. In terms of a top users list on the continent, Nigeria tops it with 92.7 million internet users. It’s a steep gap between first and second place where Egypt sits with 48.4 million. The rest of the top five consists of Kenya (31.9 million), South Africa (26.8 million) and Morocco (20.2 million).
The internet is becoming more accessible through increased availability of smartphones. Around 21.8 percent of mobile phone users in Africa are using smartphones, which is up from just 1.5 percent in 2009. This figure is expected to continue growing. This year alone it is believed that 1.25 billion smartphones will be shipped into the continent, and by 2018 shipments will have increased to two billion. Smartphones will remain the most common computing device in Africa for quite some time.
Ownership of smartphones has increased massively in developing countries in the last few years. The median of users climbed from 21 percent in 2013 to 37 percent in 2015. Those aged between 18 and 34 are much more likely to use smartphones and the internet compared to the older generation. Younger users tend to use the internet daily, and are more frequent users of social media.
To keep up with technological advances, African low-cost carrier fastjet made it possible to buy tickets on its flights via mobile. In 2013, the carrier accepted M-Pesa payments; mobile banking in place of a traditional bank account. Seventeen million Kenyans and nine million Tanzanians use M-Pesa. Kenya are reaping the rewards of this revolutionary banking service, and it has provided the foundation for a group of start-ups in Nairobi that are building new products and services.