2013 is shaping up to be the year that Africa makes major inroads into technological innovation. On April 4, Ericsson and Swedish government organizations revealed their intent to increase collaboration and tech education in Sub-Saharan Africa’s Information and Computing Technology (ICT) sector. The project requires working with the ruling bodies of countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania and others to promote skills in ICT, which comes on the heels of January’s ICT conference of tech and national leaders in Zimbabwe. ICT itself will see a renewed devotion as an Innovation Council launches in Uganda to improve communications technology. All signs point to a quick uptick in the efforts to expand the continent’s connectivity, and, if Google’s chairman is right, the biggest mover will be mobile.
Eric Schmidt published a few thoughts on his Google+ page after attending the conference, and among the most notable conclusions was the fact that “the internet in Africa will be primarily a mobile one.” To that end, various companies have begun tackling the problem of building out and maintaining spectrum over the past few weeks while also making sure that devices are ready for users when that wireless becomes available. Microsoft and Huawei launched the Huawei 4Afrika smartphone running Windows Phone 8 in early February, and announced April 3 the Microsoft4Afrika Initiative in Rwanda to deliver millions of smart devices to Africans with a goal of growing interest in app development. China’s Baidu partnered with France Telecom to bring its mobile web browser to Africa and the Middle East. Lenovo is making moves in Nigeria to develop channel partnerships for building out its tech presence in the enterprise sector. LG launched a mobile repair service in Ethiopia. Tying these device developments together will be a successful harnessing of the white spaces in various countries – an undertaking of particular importance in connecting rural areas, and one that Google has assumed. The search giant is now testing white space spectrum in rural Kenya. And these outside organizations looking in with piqued interest are joined by African governments and businesses themselves that are recognizing the importance of tech development. Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete was quoted at a conference of African ministers as saying that part of this growth in tech will have to be in the patent arena. Patenting its developers’ ideas will be key for Africa’s improvement as it “encourages innovation, invention and development of new technologies.”
All of these efforts, from foreign companies and native leaders alike will, more than anything, create an incubator of innovation across the continent, as both metropolis and farmstead begin to feel the effects of a broadening network of tech connectivity. In Schmidt’s words: “This new generation expects more, and will use mobile computing to get it.”