Since 2016, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has urged African governments on the need to strengthen rural connectivity. Long considered expensive to deploy and unprofitable, it now has a good chance of generating more interest following the lessons learned from the current health crisis. Its transformative potential is just waiting to be released.
In its report “The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2020”, the World Association of Telephone Operators (GSMA) lamented the fact that Africa still holds the largest connectivity gap between rural and urban areas. The mobile Internet penetration rate was only 16% in rural areas against 40% in urban areas.
The total African population is estimated at 1.35 billion people and its rural component stands at 753 million people, or 56% of the continent’s population, according to 2020 data from Worldometers.info. However, it is only 120 million people who access the Internet on mobile in rural areas against 235 million in urban areas.
A situation qualified as detrimental for the continent which has nevertheless made digital technology an essential component of its post-Covid-19 economic recovery and even of its future growth.
For fixed Internet, the penetration rate was only 6% in rural areas against 28% in cities. A situation qualified as detrimental for the continent which has nevertheless made digital technology an essential component of its post-Covid-19 economic recovery and even of its future growth.
In 2020, economic activity in Africa was shaken by the global coronavirus pandemic. According to the group of the African Development Bank (AfDB), the real gross domestic product of the continent which contracted by 2.1% is expected to grow by 3.4% in 2021. The economic recovery expected after ” the worst recession in more than half a century According to the ADB, will be supported by the resumption of activity in several strategic sectors, although this outlook is however subject to great uncertainty linked to external and internal risks. The telecommunications sector, which has weathered the crisis well, could turn rural areas into real economic basins by accelerating the transformation of agriculture, the main source of wealth. Before the Covid-19 crisis, digital technology was changing the global economy and agrifood systems were part of this transformation, especially in Africa. With Covid-19, this trend has accelerated.
On June 10, 2020, Gerard Sylvester, FAO’s Investment Officer, asserted that while there is an opportunity to rebuild better in the agricultural sector. He advocated for smallholder farmers to receive and apply digital advice and other knowledge products with relevant, localized and actionable content. During the webinar on Transforming Agriculture in Africa through Digitization, co-hosted by the FAO Investment Center and the African Development Bank, Ed Mabaya, the Director of the Agribusiness Division of the Bank, considered in his wake that ” population growth, coupled with an expanding middle class, proliferation of youth and changing diets, could increase the value of the African food market to $ 1 trillion by 2030 ”with support from the digital made possible by rural connectivity.
He advocated for smallholder farmers to receive and apply digital advice and other knowledge products with relevant, localized and actionable content.
The agricultural sector, which represents on average at least 15% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the majority of African countries, according to the Oxford Business School, could thus contribute more to the economic health of the continent. According to United Nations forecasts, Africa’s population, which was already 1.3 billion people in 2020, is expected to reach 1.7 billion in 2030, with a young majority. A major part of this population is still expected to live in rural areas until 2040. Rural connectivity would help to create better living conditions for them.
Main development actors in Africa, the telecom operators on whom governments keep pressuring to provide connectivity in rural areas, have always dragged their feet to take this step in view of the high cost of the investment that this represents. against low income.
But development partners like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, long aware of the beneficial impact of rural connectivity on Africa’s development, have found ways to encourage telcos to tackle the issue. really to this problem. This is how the Connected Society Innovation Fund for Rural Connectivity was born in 2018, managed by the GSMA. It funds solutions that bring Internet connectivity to remote communities.
Huawei is one of the beneficiaries of this fund. It will allow the Chinese company to deploy its new economic telecoms tower RuralStar Pro, presented last February at the Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2021, in several African countries. The less expensive RuralStar Pro revolutionizes traditional base station mode with its all-in-one design that integrates baseband, radio frequency and wireless LTE backhaul in a tiny package.
The less expensive RuralStar Pro revolutionizes traditional base station mode with its all-in-one design that integrates baseband, radio frequency and wireless LTE backhaul in a tiny package.
This design supports LTE wireless auto-link, compensating for weaknesses in microwave and fiber optic transmission. The equipment has already seduced in Ghana, where Kofi Asante, the chairman and managing director of the investment fund for electronic communications (GIFEC), explains that the public body has ” agreed to take part in this project alongside the GSMA because we have observed that we have a large number of people who are in very difficult areas who are crying out for connectivity. The innovation fund is really a model that we can follow. It will bring what we call digital inclusion for people who live outside urban areas “. From the lessons learned from Covid-19 on the importance of connectivity, 2021 could prove to be the pilot year of big changes in rural areas across Africa.