Back in February, I published a blog post entitled Weaving the Worldwide Web, wherein I summarized some key findings from the UN’s State of Broadband report in 2015. At one point, I wrote:

“[The report] estimates that there are “some 4.2 billion of the world’s people who still do not enjoy regular access to the Internet,” amounting to over half the world’s population. The disparity is particularly poignant in the UN’s 48 Least Developed Countries, where over 90% of citizens have no Internet access whatsoever. Of the 48 LDCs, Invictus Institute operates or will soon operate in five of them – Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Solomon Islands, Uganda, and Vanuatu.”

I then spent the bulk of the article examining potential solutions offered by the tech giants Facebook and Google. However, the underlying issue, commonly referred to as the digital divide, deserves more detailed, region-specific attention. So much of Invictus Institute’s work relies on the internet; the wider the divide, the fewer children can be mentored by our volunteers.

For simplification purposes, I will concentrate on the continent of Africa in this post. Later, I will devote a separate post to the continent of Asia.

World Rankings

To start, it is worth putting Africa’s population into perspective. Of the 7.5 billion people on the planet, approximately 1.25 billion of them live in Africa, amounting to 16.6% of the world’s total (based on data from the United Nations – Population Division).

This backdrop makes Africa’s lagging in internet availability apparent. Of the 1.25 billion inhabitants, just over a quarter have regular access to the internet (roughly 345.6 million). This puts their internet penetration rate of 27.7% at dead last. Unsurprisingly, North America is the leading region, leaving Africa in the dust at 88.1%. But even the second-worst, Asia, is considerably ahead at 45.2%.

A Closer Look at the Continent

As with the world at large, variation in regards to internet access exists within Africa itself. Numerous factors can determine how easy it is to connect, as summarized in numerous articles published by Mail & Guardian Africa. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Type of Community. Urban dwellers are more likely to have internet access than rural dwellers. A number of reasons make this so, such as the lack of foundational infrastructure like roads and bridges in rural areas, as well as the mathematical logic that higher populations will have higher proportions of electronically connected residents.
  • Distance from the Coast. Landlocked countries experience far greater prices for fixed broadband access than coastal countries. For many landlocked nations, “including Rwanda, Chad, Burundi and Burkina Faso,” the price of a fixed broadband connection “actually exceeds average income per capita levels.” On average, being landlocked adds an extra $232 in monthly fees.
  • Age. Younger Africans are noticeably more likely to have reliable internet access than older Africans. The 2016 World Development Report estimated “a 12-percentage point difference in access between youth (20%) and those more than 45 years old (8%). “
  • Gender. Perhaps the least surprising entry in this list, men are far more likely to regularly use the internet than women. As Mail & Guardian Africa states, “It is generally agreed that the gender digital divide stems primarily from the structural inequalities that exist between men and women in many societies.”

Why?

Imbalances such as Africa’s digital divide inevitably prompt one to ask why. Why is this level of inequality so rife?

Here the prevailing answer is the financial cost. As Mail & Guardian Africa point out, “There is ample evidence that, despite a consistent drop in [information and communications technology] prices over recent years, the relatively high price of ICT services remains a major barrier, particularly for those ICT services that are far from reaching global coverage, such as broadband services.”

As mentioned in the prior section, the amount charged by landlocked African nations for a fixed internet connection greatly exceeds the average, per capita income levels. But while the difference may not be as severe, the same basic arrangement of overwhelming internet fees exists all over the continent. It holds true for nearly half of the UN’s Least Developed Nations in Africa.

Much like the reasons for varying levels of internet openness in Africa, the reasons for such high costs are many. The aforementioned lack of reliable, fundamental infrastructure poses a challenge for any sort of development, including the necessary groundwork for broadband. Other factors include the lack of capital among governments and social instability arising from conflicts.

Conclusion

Though the breadth of Africa’s digital divide can appear bleak, Invictus Institute’s partners offer hope by tackling the issue head on. Evco Africa, for instance, “has educated over 20,000 children in technology by providing donated computers and new labs” over the last 12 years, according to Ann Zablaskai, one of our volunteers. And plenty of other organizations not yet partnered with Invictus Institute are fulfilling the same mission. ET Learns, which works solely in Ethiopia, follows the same model of providing “modern educational technology to students and teachers,” enabling them to tap into the wealth of online knowledge.

In short, there is a light at the end of the tunnel (albeit a long tunnel). And as Africa establishes the proper framework for dependable, widespread internet accessibility, Invictus Institute will be there to deliver its services to their future leaders.