The open Web has the potential to transform Africa – and the world – combating poverty, strengthening democracy and allowing journalists to tell stories differently and engage more closely with their audiences. This was the clear message today as the Guardian brought their popular Activate summit to Africa for the first time, with hundreds gathering in Johannesburg to hear global and African innovators speak.
But in delivering the opening keynote address, Dr Bitange Ndemo, the honorary chairperson of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, struck a note of caution. Yes, the Web is delivering social innovation. Yes, African Internet penetration rates are growing exponentially. However, penetration rates remain very low across the majority of the continent and prices remain sky high – and all of this potential progress depends on the availability of affordable, reliable access to the Internet.
Dr Ndemo also hit some optimistic notes, flagging how apps like Mshamba and iCow are helping to increase productivity for small farmers, and highlighting how the cocktail of technical innovation and regulatory reforms which took place during his tenure as Permanent Secretary for Communications in Kenya more than doubled the number of Internet users in the country. He delivered a strong call for governments across the continent to speed up policy and reform processes that will unlock technical innovation and drive prices down – telling policy makers to consult widely, act decisively and take calculated risks. “Policy is now more important than technology in driving prices down”, he said.
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