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  1. Science & Tech
19 February 2013updated 05 Oct 2023 8:45am

How technology is driving the new Africa

Technological development means there is more reason for African optimism than for 50 years.

By Tim Wigmore

Remember that old line about Africa being the ‘basket case’? We’ll soon have to consign it to one. Technological development means that Africa is already growing at rates the envy of the West.

A stroll through the streets of the Ghanaian capital Accra reveals why. Once you have got over the open sewers, the most noticeable feature of the streets is the sheer volume of mobile phones. Virtually everyone has one – at least – and these are often hi-tech smart phones. Owning swanky mobiles while not being able to afford books for their children may appear a sign of warped priorities, but really it’s pragmatic business sense.

The importance of the African mobile phone lies less in communication, important though that is, than banking. Mobiles are by far the most common way for people to store and transfer money in Africa.

By 2015, mobile banking will be used by 350 million Africans: a third of the continent’s population. At Equity Bank, a leading financial services provider in East Africa, all of its 54 products are completely accessible by mobile. Most account holders have never stepped inside a bank.

While such developments are particularly welcome for the middle classes, the benefits of technology run deep. In Africa today, there are almost 80 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people. Thanks to a 2500% growth in internet usage in the 2000s, there are now almost 60 internet connections per hundred households.

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This technological revolution is integrating Africa into the world economy as never before. While much of the world economy remains sluggish, Africa is enjoying impressive rates of GDP growth: an estimated average of 4.5% throughout the continent between 2000 and 2015. After decades of stagnation, the number of Africans defined as middle class rose 7% in the 2000s: more than one-third of Africans today are middle class.

Corruption, unstable governments and a lack of reliable transport still prevent Africa’s 54 countries from realising their potential. Yet, as technology permeates African society, there is more cause for optimism over the continent’s future than for the past 50 years.

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