Editor's note: TMS Ruge is co-founder of Project Diaspora, a mobile innovation enthusiast and frequest blogger (see the end of this blog for more information). He was invited to write a blog specifically for our readers on a subject of his choice.
What can I say to Canada about Africa that isn't already in the public realm? Where does one start the conversation about the future of 53 countries and a billion people? How do I enumerate the many ways that Africa is rising right before your eyes in just one article? I can't. Instead I will look at one sector that I find particularly fascinating, and that not many people pay enough attention to. It is also the one sector that affects the social and economic development of the whole continent in one way or another.
In Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, the author made the case that success comes most often as a combination of environment, timing, opportunity and most importantly, after the requisite 10,000 hours of hard work. Gladwell gave us some pivotal facts behind some of the biggest names in the personal computing industry. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Bill Joy, Eric Schmidt, and Scott NcNealy were profiled in great detail. By the time computer programming was catching on - propelled by the invention of computer time-sharing in 1965, the precursor to the internet and cloud computing - these guys were at the prime ages between 13 to 15. By the time each one of them launched their companies and products, they had already spent approximately 10,000 hours perfecting their craft. The results being Microsoft, Apple, Sun Microsystems, and the Java and UNIX platforms.
I posit that Africa's tech space is positioning itself to offer a similar magical combination of factors that will allow Africa's digerati to define themselves. In 2009, Africa's population topped one billion for the first time in history. A study in 2006 estimated that nearly 45 per cent [pdf]/a> of the continent's population to be under the age of 15! Distinguished economist and author George B.N. Ayittey noted that there is "something" afoot in Africa. A disruption in the fabric of the status quo was under way. He called this group of self-motivated, fast-moving, idea pushers the " cheetah generation."
By the end of 2011, the entire continent of Africa will be connected to no fewer than nine undersea broadband cable initiatives. Africa will have access to over 17 terabytes of designed broadband capacity. If mainframes and punchcards served as the innovation catapult for Silicon Valley's cheetah generation, then connectivity is poised to be Africa's innovation catalyst.
Since mobiles first went mainstream in Africa at the turn of the century, mobile penetration has exploded to approximately 450 million subscribers. Put in perspective, there are more mobile subscriptions on the continent than the population of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Combined! This subscriber base is expect to maintain a 12 per cent annual growth rate through 2013.
My mother lives in a small village outside Masindi town in northwestern Uganda. She does not have electricity or running water, but her most prized possession is her mobile phone. She gets it charged at the local trading centre that uses a car battery and a solar panel to charge mobile devices in the village. The phone is central to her existence. As an ashma sufferer, it is a lifeline in case of an attack; as an elected official, she uses it for community outreach. As the mother of a globe-trotting son, she uses it to keep up with wherever I may be. This is how engrained and important mobile connectivity is in today's Africa. It is also the reason it is going to be the platform of choice for category-leading innovations in the mobile space.