Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Monday, August 6

Africa, Connected

Continuing a trend of increasing connectivity in Africa, the IFC announced a $32 million investment to bolster Internet and telecommunications south of the Sahara. The East African Submarine Cable System is to link 21 countries by 2009.

Such an investment confirms the trend that communications technologies, long stagnant in Africa, have exploded over the past decade. The Continent, once overlooked by communications companies, is now receiving attention similar to the lucrative BRIC emerging markets (Brazil, Russia, India, China) in terms of investment.

Indeed, Africa is the fastest growing cell phone market in the world, with over 200 million mobile connections today. That's up from 76.8 million in 2004 and 7.5 million in 1999.

Similarly, Internet access rose 643 percent between 2000 and 2007. Nonetheless, the rapid growth of Africans online represents just 3.6 percent of the Continent's total population (compared with 20.2 percent Web penetration worldwide).

If Africans are more connected to each other and the world, the U.S. connection to Africa is improving too. The Africa Channel, a cable station devoted to programing on and from the Continent, launched last year. It's only available in several markets, such as Washington and Atlanta, but has plans to expand its reach. Founded by James Makawa and Jacob Arback, long-time television executives, the channel is backed by Andrew Young and Dikembe Mutombo, among others.

Finally, Reuters launched an Africa-focused news site this year. It's similar to the BBC's or CNN's Africa pages, but the effort is a nice addition to the few African news aggregators on the Internet.