Africa is often referred to as the "last frontier" of technology due to its relatively low levels of technological development compared to other regions of the world. This term was first coined by tech industry leaders and analysts who have identified Africa as a key market for future growth and innovation in technology.
Africa is called so, because of the relatively low levels of technology adoption and access on the continent compared to other regions of the world. According to data from Statista, as of December 2021, Africa has the lowest internet penetration rate globally, with just over 43% of the population having access to the internet compared to the global average of over 66%.
Furthermore, data from the World Bank shows that Africa has a lower level of technological innovation and development, as measured by research and development spending as a percentage of GDP. On average, African countries spend less than 1% of GDP on research and development, compared to 2-3% in developed countries.
In addition to the lack of access to technology and low levels of innovation, there are also significant disparities in access to technology within Africa. The digital divide between urban and rural areas is significant, with urban areas often having much higher levels of technology adoption and access.
These statistics demonstrate that Africa is lagging behind other regions of the world in terms of technology adoption and access, and there is a significant need for investments and policies to close the digital divide and promote technological development on the continent.
One of the main reasons for Africa's status as the last frontier of technology is its population. With a population of over 1.3 billion people, Africa is the second most populous continent in the world. This large population, combined with a rapidly growing middle class, presents a significant market opportunity for technology companies looking to expand their reach. To provide more context on this, tech analysts and observers have recognized Africa’s potential but it is more of a long-term investment.
Another reason for Africa's status as the last frontier is its underdeveloped infrastructure. While many African countries have made significant strides in recent years to improve their infrastructure, there is still a long way to go. This lack of infrastructure has made it difficult for technology companies to penetrate the market, but it also presents an opportunity for innovation and new solutions to be developed. Google and Facebook, for example, have invested heavily in bringing internet access to Africa in the hope that this will translate to user growth and then ultimately, revenue growth in the long term.
In addition to these factors, Africa's unique cultural and linguistic diversity has also contributed to its status as a last frontier for technology. The continent is home to over 2,000 languages and a wide variety of cultures, which presents a significant challenge for technology companies looking to expand their reach. Whereas citizens in different African countries are similar, it is foolhardy for companies to think they can copy and paste what works in one country into another one. However, this diversity also presents an opportunity for companies to develop localized solutions and tailor their products and services to meet the specific needs of different communities.
Despite these challenges, many tech industry leaders and analysts believe that Africa is poised for significant growth in the technology sector in the coming years. The continent has already seen a number of successful technology startups like Jumia, dubbed the Amazon of Africa, that went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Other startups include Flutterwave, Chipper Cash and Interswitch. More startups are expected to emerge as the market continues to develop.
As such, Africa is likely to continue to be considered the last frontier of technology for some time to come but the government and other stakeholders are working to catch up with the rest of the world. Many African governments have recognized the importance of technology in driving economic growth and have implemented policies and initiatives to support the development of the tech sector. For example, governments have invested in the development of infrastructure and have provided tax incentives to attract technology companies.
There has also been an investment in education: Education is a key driver of technological development and many African countries are investing in programs to improve the quality of education and to increase access to technology education.
Incubators and accelerators have sprouted across major tech hubs in African cities.
These incubators and accelerators in Africa are helping to support the development of technology startups by providing access to funding, mentorship, and other resources.
African countries are also investing in research and innovation to drive the development of new technologies. For example, countries like South Africa and Kenya have established research centres to focus on the development of cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology.
Increasing access to the internet is also a key initiative in Africa. The internet is a powerful tool for economic development and many African countries are investing in efforts to expand access to the internet through initiatives such as providing subsidies for internet access and investing in the development of infrastructure.
Private investment is also playing a key role in driving technological development in Africa. Many tech companies and venture capitalists are recognizing the potential of Africa as a market for technology and are investing in the continent.
These are some of the key initiatives and efforts being made to drive technological development in Africa, however, it's worth noting that the pace and progress of the continent's tech development are not the same across the countries and regions.
It is difficult to predict with certainty whether Africa will catch up with the rest of the world in terms of technology adoption and access, but there are a number of factors that suggest it is possible.
First, there is a growing awareness of the importance of technology for economic development and poverty reduction in Africa. This is reflected in the increasing number of initiatives and programs aimed at promoting technology adoption and access on the continent, such as the African Union's "Silicon Africa" initiative, which aims to build a knowledge-based economy in Africa through the development of ICTs.
Second, there are a number of trends that suggest Africa is starting to catch up in terms of technology adoption and access. For example, data from the International Telecommunication Union shows that internet penetration in Africa has been increasing in recent years, with the number of internet users on the continent expected to surpass one billion by 2025. Additionally, the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions in Africa has been increasing rapidly, with the number of subscriptions expected to surpass one billion by 2025.
Lastly, there are some examples of African countries that have made significant progress in terms of technology adoption and access. For example, in Kenya, the widespread adoption of mobile money has led to a significant increase in financial inclusion, with more than 75% of adults now having access to financial services. Similarly, in South Africa, the penetration of smartphones and mobile internet is among the highest in Africa.
However, it is important to note that Africa is a diverse continent, with many countries facing different challenges and opportunities. While there are certainly opportunities for Africa to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of technology adoption and access, it will likely require sustained efforts and investments in infrastructure, education, and policy to achieve this goal.
It is also important to note that Africa's digital divide is still wide, with an estimated 700 million people in Africa still lacking access to the internet, and technology adoption and access remain a significant challenge in many countries on the continent.