The web is altering Africa, principally for the higher

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Andela, a Zuckerberg Chan-sponsored tech firm in Nigeria. 


Anybody can get into Nigeria’s tech scene, says Chibuzor Obiora. That wasn’t true just some years in the past.

A 29-year-old developer, Obiora started coding in 2014 when he was employed by Andela, a Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative-sponsored tech agency that provides Africans paid coaching in software program growth.

Again then, his colleagues have been all males round his age and older. However previously 5 years, the software program growth trade in Nigeria has turn out to be extra mainstream. As younger Nigerians found out they might and make cash comparatively rapidly, Obiora says, the trade’s common age plummeted and its make-up turned various.

“It’s not simply guys anymore,” he mentioned. “At Andela, I used to be colleagues with girls as properly, a lot older girls who’d simply had youngsters, married males who’ve had youngsters, girls who wore the hijab.”

Widespread web entry is altering the African continent, largely due to the rise in smartphone ownershi. 

Now the CTO of his personal startup, Obiora and all of his outdated Andela colleagues are driving the rising tech wave.


Obiora and Andela co-founder Jeremy Johnson. 


Africans say there’s a lot to be hopeful about. Fundamental web providers tangibly enhance high quality of life. One thing so simple as an saves lives in nations like Ethiopia, the place a give start exterior of well being amenities. Rudimentary web entry can facilitate enormous productiveness boosts for agriculture employees across the continent; farmers, as an illustration, save treasured time by accessing market costs by means of their as a substitute of a bodily journey into city.

However there are some penalties of web adoption that would mood optimism. Africa is a continent traditionally beleaguered by authoritarianism, unrest and underdevelopment. The web isn’t inherently a drive for progress or disruption, however as a substitute is a instrument that can be utilized for both of these ends. Among the web’s purposes are serving to to construct up Africa, whereas others are exacerbating the continent’s issues.

Cash on my cell

As a citizen of Nigeria, Obiora is assured within the potential of web media, each conventional and social, to coach and interact Africans. However he’s additionally seen a rising drawback.

“There’s an enormous on-line betting market in Nigeria,” he mentioned. “It’s one factor to have the ability to stroll to a store and purchase a ticket. … it’s one other factor to entry a whole lot of betting platforms on-line.”

Playing, significantly within the type of sports activities betting, rankles Africa’s extra developed nations. Round 60 million Nigerians aged between 18 and 40 wager each day, in response to a ballot from the .

This isn’t an issue distinctive to Africa. The world’s 10 most gambling-prone populations . Australians are the world leaders in dropping cash to playing, and of the nation’s playing market.

The priority is that the majority Africans have extra to lose than Western gamblers. Half of Nigeria’s inhabitants lives under the poverty line, , and thousands and thousands of individuals wager what little cash they’ve within the hopes of incomes extra. The betting motivation most cited in NAN’s survey was a have to make a fast buck.

Mada Savings Club

Nigerian girls and their cell phones.

Getty Photos

There’s a transparent correlation between smartphone possession and on-line playing. Kenyans gamble extra after shopping for a smartphone, in response to a 2017 research by the , a Invoice and Melinda Gates-funded agency. Over 20 p.c of individuals purchased a smartphone particularly for betting.

On-line playing is aided by means of web entry and cell cost platforms, which have boomed in Africa all through the previous decade. Nonetheless, that is an space the place the professionals outweigh the cons.

Cellular cost apps permit Africans to avoid the continent’s insufficient monetary infrastructure. Simply 34 p.c of Africans had financial institution accounts in 2014, . This makes a problem out of duties that Westerners take as a right, like paying payments for utilities.

It’s been a life-changer, particularly for Africans who don’t stay in cities. For the previous few years, US corporations like Zola Electrical and Black Star Power have begun organising solar-powered gear and infrastructure in rural elements of , Tanzania, the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

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Taking health care to the people

These areas are often without access to either financial institutions or the energy grid. The electricity produced by Zola and Black Star has brought electric lights to villages for the first time, replacing less effective and more dangerous kerosene lamps, enabled in many cases by Africans being able to pay bills remotely via mobile payment platforms

Zola can only operate in rural areas because of mobile platforms, which are a “core part” of the company’s business model, according to Alessandro Pietrobon, the company’s head of data and analytics. Customers who buy Zola products get the added benefit of having a transaction record, which Pietrobon says acts as a proxy to credit rating with banks and other financial institutions.

It sounds like a sales pitch, but it’s backed up by a . Between 2008 and 2015, M-Pesa, Kenya’s most-used app, had lifted 194,000 Kenyan households out of poverty. Accessing a mobile wallet improved the financial literacy of many users, which in turn helped pull them over the poverty line. 

Far from just improving lives, mobile payment apps have also saved them. Broken or inefficient financial systems, as well as corrupt or authoritarian governments, often stymie humanitarian aid. Mobile payments offer a solution, as funds can be sent directly to those who need them. Essential Ebola aid workers in Sierra Leone were . Humanitarian organizations used mobile payments to during a famine in 2011.

Without mobile platforms, Oxfam says, “this aid would not have been possible.”


Thousands of Sudanese protested the reign of Omar Al-Bashir in April.

Ozan Kose / AFP/Getty Images

Rise together, fall together

On April 11, Sudan’s president, Omar Al-Bashir, was ousted in a military coup. Al-Bashir had presided over Sudan for 30 years, during which time he was accused of sponsoring terrorism and facilitating a civilian genocide. Just nine days before his exit, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned. Bouteflika’s authoritarian regime has left Algeria underdeveloped, high in corruption and low in human rights.

Both leaders were toppled following months of mass protests by citizens in their respective countries. Mobile phones played a powerful role, according to Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former US national intelligence officer for Africa.

“Sub-Saharan Africa in 2008 had about 800 protests. In 2018 there were just under 4,000 protests,” he said. Part of that escalation can be chalked up to more phones and internet users “lowering the barriers to organizing.”

To demonstrate how much of a threat phone and internet access poses to authoritarianism, Devermont says you only have to look at how authoritarian governments try to suppress these communications tools.

The governments of both and intermittently blocked the internet as public unrest mounted against their respective regimes. (Curiously, Algeria’s government also shut down the internet intermittently in 2018 to .) Chad’s internet has been blocked by its government . Uganda in 2018 began taxing people for using social media platforms, leading to a precipitous drop in their use.

The most popular search by Ugandans last year, Devermont said, was “what is a ?”

Mobile phones and the internet can’t create a democracy out of an autocracy, but they can facilitate the necessary first steps. But just as the internet can be used to fuel democracy, it can also be used to disrupt it.

In the US, fake news — information specifically designed to misinform — has mostly found its home on and Twitter. In many developing nations, Facebook’s messaging app has been the most troubling platform for the spread of misinformation. Like chain mail on steroids, specious information is blasted through WhatsApp by people forwarding “news” to hundreds of contacts at a time, who in turn send it on to their contacts.

Africa’s most infamous example comes from Nigeria. In late 2017, a London-based political activist circulated a story on YouTube that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari died and had been replaced by a Sudanese lookalike named Jubril. It caught fire on WhatsApp, gaining enough momentum that Buhari himself refuted it in a speech last year.

“I did see that,” Obiora, the Nigeria-based startup CTO, said. “WhatsApp, as usual, was the culprit.”

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addresses an audience

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addresses an audience following his re-election in February.

Kola Sulaimon / AFP/Getty Images

When people in the West think of fake news, they usually think of divisive politics and spurious reports. Africa certainly has that; from 2016 into 2017, South Africa was roiled by a that sought to divide the country along racial lines, to distract from then-President Jacob Zuma’s corruption. But there’s another type of misinformation that spreads through Africa that can be even more dangerous.

Many people across Africa get health information forwarded to them from friends and family through WhatsApp, says Kate Wilkinson, the acting deputy chief editor of fact-checking company Africa Check. She says the organization increasingly spends its time debunking false health information.  

“We often think of fake news as having political implications and societal implications, which it does,” she said. “But when it comes to health, people die.”

Wilkinson recalls a story of a mother who brought her blind children into a health clinic. The mother had poured battery acid into her children’s’ eyes because she was told it could cure conjunctivitis.

Africa Check, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-sponsored firm, is fighting fire with fire. The company has set up a WhatsApp line that allows people to forward messages they suspect may be misinformation, which can then be verified or debunked.

“We’ve been completely inundated by people adding us and sending us content,” Wilkinson said. “The response has been enormous.”

The circulation of dangerously inaccurate health information isn’t new. There was a Nigerian movement in the late ’90s and early 2000s urging people to their children against polio, as such remedies were claimed to be part of a plan for the government to sterilize the country’s women.  

A dangerous game

Mobile adoption is just one element of an ascendant Africa. The continent is also experiencing a boom in infrastructure development and, with between 2010 and 2016, improved diplomatic relationships with other nations. But increasing prominence on the world stage means having to navigate geopolitical quagmires. African leaders have learned this the hard way.

In 2012, the Chinese government dropped $200 million to fund a new headquarters for the African Union, a bloc of 55 nations, similar to the European Union. China said it was a gift. Five years later, revealed the building had been bugged, with confidential data sent to servers in Shanghai every night for half a decade. (This was allegedly done via a backdoor, the same fear .) 

China, along with Russia and the United States, has taken a particular interest in Africa, says Adam Meyers, vice president at Crowdstrike, a Washington-based cybersecurity firm.

“[China is] constructing stadiums, they’re investing in infrastructure,” Meyers mentioned, “and with that comes gear, and with that they constructed the African Union constructing in Ethiopia that turned out to be fully compromised with community tapped gear.

“There’s a variety of geopolitics in Africa happening so I feel from a cyber perspective that’s an enormous concern,” he added, noting that North Korean hackers have additionally been more and more concentrating on African companies. 

Chinese investment in Africa

The Africa Union constructing being in-built 2010. It was a “present” from China, however was later discovered to be bugged.

Per-Anders Pettersson

Devermont, of the Middle for Strategic and Worldwide Research, additionally has worries about Africa, for its challenges out and in of tech. He’s involved that authoritarian governments will leverage different Chinese language know-how, like , to repress residents. However he says there’s a lot to be hopeful about.

“I’m optimistic about plenty of issues in Africa,” he mentioned. The entrepreneurial spirit of the continent is “unimaginable,” he says, and its digital financial system is rising impressively. Web entry may also usher in new ranges of voter schooling and assist hold governments to account.

Africa’s relationship with the web isn’t distinctive. Faux information has been a significant drawback within the US, the place and affected the 2016 election consequence. Misinformation has proved lethal in different nations, most notably in India, the place WhatsApp-spread rumors have fueled mob violence that has led to the .

For Africa to get essentially the most out of the web increase, governments might want to chip in. A extra educated, conscious public might assist mitigate the dangers. In Nigeria, Obiora says his authorities ought to do extra to show locals about digital literacy, of the ability and issues the web harbors. Then once more, he says, Nigeria’s leaders might additionally use a primer.

“One of many largest challenges now we have is the lack of our authorities to grasp the unimaginable alternative and worth the tech increase presents.”

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