No phone no computer for most Africans

No phone no computer for most Africans


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



  There are fewer than 3 computers per 1,000 people; 1 person in 1,500 has access

to the Internet; the world average is about 1 in 40. Nearly 80 per cent of all websites

are in English; only 10 per cent of the world’s population speak English



No phone, No computer

for Most Africans


UN African Recovery Report 

—Africa has some 14 mn telephone lines, or fewer than 2 per 100 people. Excluding South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa has fewer than 0.52 lines per 100 people.

—Over 50 per cent of the lines are in urban areas. Over 70 per cent of the population is rural.

There is roughly 1 public telephone per 17,000 people. The world ratio is 1 per 600 people, and in high-income countries, 1 per 200.

—Average annual growth of lines is about 10 per cent. Over a million people are on waiting lists for a phone.

—Sahelian and Central African countries such as Niger and Zaire have fewer than 2 lines per 1,000 people.

—North and South Africa have about 35 lines per 1,000 people.

—West and East African coastal countries have between 2.5 and 10 lines per 1,000 people.

—Besides North and South Africa, only Botswana, Cape Verde, Gabon, Mauritius and Swaziland have over 1 line per 50 people.

—Most calls between African countries are still routed through Europe or the US; this costs African countries some $400 mn a year in transit fees.

—Of Africa’s roughly 1 million Internet users, 90 per cent are in South Africa.

—Internet service providers are concentrated in capital cities; reaching the Internet from elsewhere usually means an expensive long-distance call.

—Average costs of an Internet account for five hours a month are $60 (telephone line rental excluded). In countries with per capita incomes 10 times higher than the African average, costs of five hours of similar Internet access range from a high of $18.50 (Germany) to a low of $7.25 (US).

—There are fewer than 3 computers per 1,000 people; 1 person in 1,500 has access to the Internet; the world average is about 1 in 40. Nearly 80 per cent of all websites are in English; only 10 per cent of the world’s population speak English.

—Africa generates some 0.4 per cent of the contents of the World Wide and only 0.02 per cent when South Africa is excluded.

—Over 60 per cent of Africans can be reached through existing radio broadcasting networks

—Some 45 per cent of Africans are under 15 years old; the rest of the world’s average is 30 per cent.

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Computers are few, the issues many

Computers in Africa are relatively few — recent estimates are 1-3 computers per 1,000 people, with the ratio peaking near 20 per 1,000 in Botswana, Mauritius and South Africa. They are also relatively expensive. There is little local assembly, they are taxed as luxury imports in many countries and retailers make sure of their own margins.

The notable exceptions are Mauritius, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Import taxes there are under 10 per cent but communications equipment and computer peripherals are still charged at higher rates. In 1995, only five African countries could connect to the Internet. By early 1999, only the Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Somalia could not. Still, Internet use remains prohibitively expensive

Most Internet service providers (ISPs) are in urban centres where local call charges are often too high for most people. Outside the towns, it takes an expensive, long-distance call to reach an ISP. So far, only 13 countries have tackled this problem by allowing phone companies to set up a special “area code” for Internet access, charged at local call rates.

Meanwhile, ISP charges range from $10 to $100 a month. Internet access is generally cheaper in countries with several ISPs such as Uganda, which has at least eight. State-owned telecommunications companies now provide Internet services in 31 countries, controlling the international “gateway.” Where the national company competes with the private sector — Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia — Internet access costs are lower.

The cheapest Internet access for ISPs in countries outside South Africa is through two-way, satellite-based services using very small aperture terminals (VSAT) to connect directly to the US or Europe. This has been quickly adopted wherever regulations allow, namely Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Most of Africa’s Internet connections are to the US, with a few to the UK and France. The exceptions are some ISPs in Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland that use South Africa as a hub. Aside from a link between Mauritius and Madagascar, there are no Internet links between neighbouring countries in Africa. High international tariffs discourage ISPs from setting up multiple international links. ISPs must therefore put all their traffic on a single, high-cost international circuit.

The result is a growing burden of payments to US or European service providers for Internet traffic between African countries. Africans are trying to raise the issue in international meetings, and could collaborate with Asian telecommunications operators and regulators who oppose the same imbalance in Asia.

Africa has so far been marginal in global policy making on Internet issues. African ISPs took a step forward in 1998 when they began setting up a regional body (AfriNIC) to take over management of some African Internet governance matters from the US and Europe.

There will be over a billion Africans in 2010, he noted, almost double the population when the African Information Society Initiative was launched in 1996 (see Section 2). In endorsing this policy framework for the deployment of ICTs in Africa’s development, African countries stated that by 2010, every woman, man, child, village and public and private sector office should have secure access to information and knowledge through computers and communication media.

Achieving the goal of “equity of access to ICTs” for women, young people and the disabled as well as for rural and marginal urban communities will require partnerships within African countries and between them. It will also require partnerships with the local and foreign private sector, Mr. Amoako stated.

The African Virtual University (AVU), this World Bank-funded initiative is helping to “alleviate the decay” of Africa’s universities, many of which face dwindling budgets and declining academic standards, said University of Zimbabwe lecturer Stanley Moyo. Since 1997, the AVU has hooked up with 22 institutions in 16 countries and eight more in francophone and lusophone countries are joining. It offers credits in courses such as calculus and engineering as well as non-credit lectures. 

Some 2,000 hours of classes have been broadcast live by satellite and this year, over 600 students have taken computer science lectures. More of the course materials will eventually come from within Africa.

African universities need information technology to survive, said Professor Olalere Ajayi of Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University, noting that hardware costs are halved when students learn to assemble computers. Such institutions can also become Internet service providers, added Prof. J. Mwenechanya. With funding from the World Bank and the Netherlands, the University of Zambia linked all campus buildings in a fibre optic network, obtained unlimited Internet access and set up Zamnet as a commercial Internet service provider.


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Building blocks for communications

Africa needs better infrastructure to increase demand and lower costs, says ECA

Sub-Saharan Africa currently has the least developed communications network in the world. With almost 12 per cent of the world’s population, the region has only 0.5 per cent of all telephone lines (about 3 mn lines, South Africa excluded). Compounding the chronic shortage of lines, few people can afford to own a telephone, says the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

There is a vicious circle. Most Africans live in rural areas; the greater the distance to the capital, the fewer the telephone lines. It is cheaper to install a line and own a phone on a large network than on a small network. It requires substantial investment to expand the network and lower costs by reaching more people. Most African countries are neither able to make the required investment themselves nor attract foreign capital in sufficient quantity to expand the network faster. The usual reason is the limited market for phone services when most people live in low-income rural areas that do not generate enough revenue to be profitable.

The cost of a phone connection in Africa’s mostly low-income countries was almost 20 per cent of the continent’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in 1995, compared with 1 per cent in high-income countries. Even in urban areas, the high cost of access is a major reason why telephone networks are defective, ECA says in Policies and Strategies for Accelerating Africa’s Information Infrastructure Development, a paper prepared for the African Development Forum.

In 1996, business phones in Africa cost an average $112 to install — over $200 in Benin, Mauritania, Nigeria and Togo — and $6 a month to rent, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Renting a line cost between $0.80 and $20 a month, and calls cost from $0.60 to over $5 an hour. Since then, the cost of local calls has risen to over $8 an hour in Uganda, Gabon and Chad.

Given the high cost of private phones, Africa needs many more public telephones. As an intermediate step in Cameroon, private “phone shops” are springing up. Senegal has over 7,000 such “telecentres,” employing over 10,000 people and generating nearly a third of all phone revenues. Most telecentres are in urban areas but are also appearing across the country. This expansion will continue as current work on linking 2,000 villages and towns by fibre optic cable reaches completion.

However, policy objectives in African countries vary between achieving universal service and providing affordable universal access. The first aims, in principle, for “a phone in each home”; the second involves widespread provision of public facilities at reasonable cost. South Africa’s target is nationwide access to telephones within a 30-minute walk. The Gambia wants to put phones in all villages of 2,000 people or more, as does Botswana for villages with at least 500 people.

To finance this expansion of the network in rural areas, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda have a Universal Service Fund into which phone companies pay a portion of their revenues (0.16 per cent in South Africa). Morocco uses operator license fees to finance rural telecommunications projects.

Other countries have given their phone companies broad universal service obligations without defining specific targets and policy makers need to think about their goals. This is increasingly important as phone services can now deliver the Internet. Yet, South Africa’s Telkom is installing wireless infrastructure in rural areas that cannot provide acceptable speeds for Internet connection.

These days, greater access to more extensive communications networks is seen as a prerequisite for development and not an outcome. It is also expensive –the ITU says it would cost $6-8 bn for 4.5 mn new lines in Africa. But as “cash cows” for governments, state-owned companies are seldom free to invest their profits in extending their services. Revenue from privatization and license fees also tends to disappear into government coffers instead of network expansion.

Worse still, government offices usually incur the biggest communications bills but do not pay on time. An ITU study of 10 sub-Saharan countries found that on average, only 60 per cent of bills get paid and, in most cases, governments are the largest debtors.

Deregulation not a simple answer

Ever-bigger private firms are battling for dominance in thriving national and international telecommunications markets, replacing public monopolies. Several African countries have also embarked on privatization and other measures leading to full competition, but so far most have sold the state monopoly in basic phone services to a single private company or consortium (see box below).

Only Ghana, Madagascar, South Africa and Uganda have introduced competition in the national network while Mozambique, Nigeria and Sudan have issued licenses for limited competition in some parts of the country. In Ghana, a consortium led by the US-based Western Wireless bought a license guaranteeing a five-year share of the fixed-line market in which the only competitor is the former state monopoly. It can also provide mobile phone services for the next 20 years. Only a handful of countries have committed themselves to the World Trade Organization target of full competition in basic services by 2005.

With fixed lines in short supply, mobile phone services have grown rapidly in 42 African countries, mainly in capital cities. They now comprise about a fifth of all phones in Africa, excluding South Africa. However, using a cell phone costs over $0.50 a minute on average and very few people can afford extensive use.

These are some of the elements that African policy makers must take into account as they develop strategies for liberalizing and extending telecommunications. New technology is gradually lowering the cost of expanding networks and owning or using a growing range of services. Fibre optic cables and wireless and satellite facilities can make rural areas much easier to reach. As in other sectors, careful regulation of more competition may facilitate infrastructure development. But a country must have a plan.

Regional collaboration

With a view to increasing the economies of scale needed to attract private investment, nearly half the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) has adopted a legally binding protocol on communications. SADC has also set up the Telecommunication Regulators of Southern Africa (TRASA) forum to share ideas and experiences.

At regional level, Africans ministers adopted the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) at an ECA conference in 1996. Combined with the Abidjan African Regional Telecommunications Development Conference held the same year, AISI has created significant pressure for appropriate regulatory, tariff and service provision policies.

In 1998, over 40 countries endorsed “the African Connection,” an initiative which calls for the installation of 50 mn telephone lines in Africa over the next five years. This is now a project of the Nairobi-based Pan-African Telecommunication Union (PATU).

Meanwhile African countries have two basic problems to overcome. The first is the lack of coordination between key ministries such as finance, planning, trade and telecommunications. The second is the insufficient collaboration between anglophone and francophone countries that weakens Africa’s position in global forums and hampers sub-regional and regional activities.


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Internet Usage Statistics for Africa( Africa Internet Usage and Population Stats )

Population: 1,037,524,058

Pop. % of World: 15.0 %

Internet Users, Latest Data: 118,848,060

Penetration (% Population): 11.5 %

Users % World: 5.6 %

Facebook Subscribers: 30,665,460

Source: InternetWorldStats

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Internet users in African Countries

(Millions of users)

Nigeria: 44

Egypt: 20.1

Morocco: 13.2

South Africa: 6.8

Algeria: 4.7

Sudan: 4.2

Tunisia: 3.6

Uganda: 3.2

Zimbabwe: 1.4

Source: InternetWorldStats

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Africa Internet, Broadband and Digital Media Statistics Report

Growth in Africa’s Internet and Broadband sector has accelerated in recent years due to improvements in infrastructure, the arrival of wireless access technologies and lower tariffs. Broadband is rapidly replacing dial-up as the preferred access method. This process is already virtually completed in Africa’s more developed markets. This report provides 126 statistical tables showing trends and developments in the telecommunications markets of the 38 most significant African countries in terms of telecommunications.

Executive Summary

Large parts of Africa gained access to international fibre bandwidth for the first time via submarine cables in 2009 and 2010. In other parts of the continent, additional fibre systems have brought competition to a previously monopolised market. More cables are expected to go online in 2011. This has led to massive investments into terrestrial fibre backbone infrastructure to take the new bandwidth to population centres in the interior and across borders into landlocked countries.

Africa’s Internet and broadband sector is set to benefit the most from these developments. Wholesale prices for Internet bandwidth have come down by as much as 90% from previous levels based on satellite access, and the cost savings are slowly being passed on to the retail level as well. Broadband is rapidly replacing dial-up as the preferred access method, and this process is already virtually completed in the continent’s more developed markets.

Most African countries now have commercial DSL services, but their growth is limited by the poor geographical reach of the fixed-line networks. Improvements in Internet access have therefore been mostly confined to the capital cities so far. However, the rapid spread of mobile data and third-generation (3G) broadband services is changing this, with the mobile networks bringing Internet access to many areas outside of the main cities for the first time.

Many fixed-line incumbents have reacted by rolling out fixed-wireless access networks to expand their geographical reach. The technology of choice has been CDMA-2000 which supports broadband data rates with an upgrade to EV-DO standard. WiMAX technology, however, offers higher data rates and has gained ground in Africa with well over 100 networks already in operation. 

Source: Budde

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