by Rwanda Government
by Rwanda Government

As many of you know I have been keeping an eye on what is happening in Africa when it comes to Internet connect and how it is and is going to radically change the landscape there. Africa just help the transform Africa Summit. There have been some great articles written on what was discussed at the summit. I thought I would just share some information via news reports and quotes that have me shaking my head in excitement.

Rwanda recently signed a $140 million (£87 million) deal with Korea Telecom, which will see the company deliver 4G LTE internet to 95 percent of citizens within three years. Despite 5,000km of fibre-optic cable already being laid in the country, only 8.3 percent of the Rwanda’s 12 million citizens are currently connected to the internet. The government is hoping that the rollout of 4G, which kicks off this week, will change this. (wired UK)

Nsengimana demoed the new 4G in action. In a side-by-side test, it reached speeds 90Mbps, while the 3G network managed just 0.5Mbps. For education, he said, this means the difference between being able to study texts online and enabling students to access multimedia and participate fully in online classrooms(wired UK)(Bold by me)

“They should adopt a leapfrogging approach,” he said. “They should take advantage of broadband, because they are not impeded by legacy industries.” (wired UK)

Last year, 40 tablet computers were delivered to the children of two remote Ethiopian villages. The villagers were 100 percent illiterate—the kids had never seen road signs, product labels, or printed material of any kind.

Within weeks, they were singing their ABCs, picked up from the English-language learning software installed on the tablets. Within five months, some kid figured out that the tablets had built-in cameras—they had been disabled for ethical reasons—and hacked the Android operating system to activate them. (reason.com)

One Laptop Per Child considered the Ethiopian kids’ hack a success. “The kids had completely customized the desktop—so every kids’ [sic] tablet looked different. We had installed software to prevent them from doing that,” a contrite Ed McNierney, OLPC’s chief technology officer, told the MIT Technology Review. “And the fact that they worked around it was clearly the kind of creativity, the kind of inquiry, the kind of discovery that we think is essential to learning.”

On Oct. 1, LAUSD pronounced its ed tech experiment temporarily out of control and admitted that several schools were in the process of attempting to pry the new tablets from their students’ clammy hands. (reason.com)

Both of the articles quoted above are worth a read and so are the links within them. At the same time Bill Gates was interviewed earlier this week about his thoughts on technology being a game changer around the world. It’s an interesting view point from a man who’s mission has been to make this world a better place. I agree with Bill that there are things that giving people a connection can’t solve…or can they? What if you know how to treat a disease? What if you learn how to keep disease down in your tride? What if you learn better birthing techniques by reading something on the web? I don’t know…that connection can be pretty powerful. It’s already overthrown governments and changing the GPD of countries in Africa which means more money for more medicine for more people.

What I love…is right now we’re approaching this from both ends. NGOs and Mr. Gates are hitting things like malaria head on…which is awesome…and now if we can get those same people an Internet connection we impower them to change and learn. To mean it’s not an either or right now but a both.

A View overlooking all fo Addis Ababa

Sitting here in my hotel room after six great days with the ICSAddis COETAIL cohort that we kicked off this week and I can’t stop thinking about what an exciting time to be in Ethiopia. In fact what an exciting time to be alive!

I have a lot running through my brain right now so this might be a bit disjointed…but it’s my reflection and thoughts….so deal with it. 🙂

Our Connected World
We continue to talk about and try to understand just how connected our world is becoming and just how fast this change is happening around the world. Ethiopia is no different. This is a country prime for change, prime for the connection, and they are moving there quickly. Most people outside of Africa don’t give much thought to the development that is happening here. We hear about Asia, about the Middle East, but Africa and the changes that are affecting this continent are not mentioned much in the Western world. But make no mistake of it, Africa is primed and coming on fast.

Let’s just look at the hard facts about Ethiopia.

The GDP of Ethiopia has been in a double digit climb year over year since 2004. Even during the recession Ethiopia saw 8% and 7.5% growth of their GDP.

In a recent news article while here Ethio Telecom (State ran Telecom company) released its latest numbers.

  • Ethio Telecom’s customer base has reached 18.28 million people, registering a 59pct increase in the last fiscal year.
  • Mobile services, which constituted the vast majority of the customer base, had anticipated reaching 21.9 million subscribers and in actuality attracted 17.28 million customers. This was an increase of 700,000 people, a 79pct achievement of the target. Fixed line numbers reached 805,000 people or 81.4pct of intended performance targets.
  • Internet and data service customers reached 221,000, 89pct performance. This does not  include 2.44 million users who receive mobile Internet service.
  • There were more than 4,000 SIM and Voucher card retail distributors by the end of the fiscal year, while the number of wholesalers increased from six to 45, as the number of points of sale in the country reached over 45,000.
  • “The number of mobile phone subscribers we have currently ranks us in the sixth position in Africa and first in east Africa,” said Abdurahmin adding that prominent countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt are the ones beating Ethiopia’s figures.

Now….those numbers are fantastic for a country who is growing quickly and also shows just how fast the middle class is appearing here in Ethiopia. But…this isn’t what blew me away about this article. No it was this quote (bold by me):

As we all know in this age of Information Communication Technology service is not a luxury, but it’s a basic necessity and development accelerator of every nation,” Jean-Michel said adding that Ethio Telecom accomplished encouraging results and should meet the sector target of the five year GTP plan.

Does every nation know this? There are some countries that believe the connection, the Internet, is a basic necessity. But there are others….to name one….America…..that from what I’ve seen haven’t made this type of commitment.

Stop and think for a minute about what that statement means to a developing country like Ethiopia and where this could lead them into the future. How exciting of a time for Ethiopia.

Being here and experiencing Addis Ababa has been amazing. The construction that is going on everywhere is insane and totally reminds me of Shanghai when we arrived in 2005. The country is growing so fast, the middle class is growing so quickly, that trying to build the infrastructure to handle it all becomes frustrating. But make no mistake…it’s being built.

There is no such thing as too fast a connection

View of my hotel window. Looking at all the sky cranes reminds me of Shanghai in 2005

Maybe it’s just me but I’ve never heard anyone complain of their Internet connection being too fast. Internet speed is something we all complain about. No matter if you have 1mb or 100mb we’ll find a way to complain about it. At ICSAddis I was reminded about it this week. The school has continued year over year to increase their bandwidth based on what the countries infrastructure allows. This year they are up to 20mbps which isn’t a bad speed for a school of about 800 students. However, because Ethiopia is growing so quickly it’s not a stable connection. The line gets cut, the speed drops at heavy use times during the day, and overall the connection isn’t reliable. But it continues to improve, it continues to get better, and we (OK…..me) have to remind ourselves just how amazing this whole things is. China went through this with their growth, and so did Thailand (and still is). It’s a natural part of wiring a country…it’s not an easy task, and when everyone wants the connection….craves the connection….you physically can’t built it fast enough.

Why the future might belong to Africa

Also in the paper while I was here (who knew reading a paper would be so informative 😉 ) was the release of the 2012 Edition of the African Economic Outlook.

With almost 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world. And it keeps growing rapidly. According to recent estimates, the number of young people in Africa will double by 2045. If this trend continues, the continent’s labor force will reach one billion by 2040, making it the largest in the world.

Now that’s something to think about! What does the world look like when the largest labor force is in Africa?

The report warns that high unemployment among youth poses a serious challenge for the economies of African countries, whose recovery from the 2011 global economic and financial crisis had been remarkable.

Emmanuel Nnadozie stated that challenges facing youth employment often vary across African countries and different income groups, he added, stressing the fact that in low-income countries, “youth in vulnerable employment and working poverty are the largest majority”, while “discouraged or inactive youth” are the most common group in middle-income countries.

Africa’s youth population is not only growing rapidly, it is also getting better educated. Based on current trends, about 59pct of 20-24 year olds will have had secondary education in 2030, compared to 42pct today. With the number of youth in Africa set to double by 2045, creating productive jobs for young people will continue to pose an immense challenge, according to reports.

You can read the whole article yourself but these quotes really stuck out to me. So, I’m reading all of this, I’m here in Addis experiencing the construction, seeing the people go about their daily lives, watching the growth happen around me and all I can think is WOW!

What if?

What if the government can make the Internet a utility for all? What if this growing youth population has a fast, steady connection to the outside world? What if, free online education sites continue to grow? What if the youth in Africa start educating themselves? What if this youth generation connect, grow, and learn together? What if this is the future?

I know those are a lot of “What If” statements. But I consider myself to be a pretty well traveled person (37 countries and counting) and I have to say the future is exciting on a global level. I see what is happening in Thailand, in China, in countries that many people haven’t even heard of like Burma, Laos or Cambodia and I am excited for humanity. Sure it has been hard work to get here, and sure there is a lot of hard work in front of us. But it’s OK once in a while to step back and be proud of what we have accomplished…where this is all going and how the Internet….the connection……might just be the best thing to happen to humanity yet!