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Predictions of the African Internet, 1994-1998

November 5, 2009  »  WebNo Comment

A look through news stories dating from 1994 to 1998 provides a glimpse into the infancy of Africa’s Internet years. In general, there was great hope that Africa’s economic and social woes would be cured by ICT in a matter of years. Many felt that Africa could skip dial-up and dive headfirst into the broadband and mobile age. Others felt that with some international help, it would only be a matter of years before Internet costs came down. Of course, challenges were anticipated, but they weren’t expected to linger a full 15 years later. Today, we are still hearing the same predictions and promises. A summary of some highlights:

  1. “On the Internet, Most of Africa Is Getting Off to a Slow Start,” The New York Times, Oct. 1, 1994 (Link):
    • The article focuses on a Senegalese journalist who is attempting to transform the Pan African News Agency
    • The poorly designed telephone system, built in colonial times, still routes local calls through London
    • 50 people in Senegal are thought to be online (out of 11 million)
  2. “Linked to Internet, Could Africa’s Voice Be Heard?” The New York Times, Nov. 17, 1995 (Link):
    • A senior telecom ministry official in the Ivory Coast is uncertain whether the Internet exists in his country. He knows it is a priority and hopes to see operational fiber-optic cables in 3 to 4 years.
    • Only 12 African nations have active Internet connections
    • Analysts warn Africa to get online lest the continent fall even further behind (the digital divide was on the horizon, but not yet there)
    • A possible advantage is that Africa can skip the copper wire stage and jump into fiber optics and wireless communication. The result: overnight connectivity
    • Fears of ‘telephone companies ranking as the most lucrative state cash cows’ are mentioned in the final paragraph
  3. “Out of Africa and onto the Internet,” New Scientist, Oct. 19, 1996 (Link):
    • The first cyber café opened in Dakar, Senegal with 10 terminals
    • The goal of the center is to become a cultural center and not a temple to the Internet
    • Only 6 Internet cafés exist in Africa
  4. “Ringing Africa,” Forbes, Jul. 17, 1997 (Link):
    • By the end of 1997, full Internet access is expected in the capitals of 35 countries
    • This number was only 11 at the beginning of the year
    • Africa ONE, an undersea cable system, is expected by 1999
    • The private sector is leading the connectivity effort
    • 80% of all data on Africa is located outside Africa by non-Africans
    • Low income, high prices, and poor infrastructure will be challenges
  5. “In Africa, Reality of Technology Falls Short,” The New York Times, Jan. 26, 1998 (Link):
    • The promise of the Internet is not yet seen in Africa: schools lack computers, cyber cafés are empty, and the infrastructure remains unchanged
    • Congo has seen mobile phones, and Ghana and Senegal have a fast-growing web culture
    • Ivory Coast has 30,000 mobile customers out of a population of 15 million, despite competition among the three operators
    • People are interested in the Internet but lack a phone line and the money to afford a computer
    • Cyber cafés charge US$7.50/hour and ISPs charge $127/month
    • The commercial director of Africa Online describes the connection as ‘wanting to eat a typically Finnish diet in the middle of West Africa’
    • The prediction: prices will lower as advancements in technology drive down costs. Everyone on the continent will live within 5 miles of an Internet access point before too long
  6. “Kenya’s Slow Drive Online,” Wired, Jun. 9, 1998 (Link):
    • The chairman of the East African Internet Association compares his regions Internet progress to a road in need of repair
    • The Kenyan Internet is viewed as elitist
    • Bandwidth costs US$10,000/month for 64kbps
    • Kenya only has 5 licensed ISPs and no regulator yet exists