The current issue of the Egyptian magazine Business Today features an exposé on the stymied development of Internet access in sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting the statistic that only 4% of the population routinely uses the Internet, and fewer than 1% of those users have broadband access. For comparison sake, 17.3% of the Middle East’s population identify as Internet users, as does 70.2% of North American residents. In the same vein, broadband access costs less than 20 USD per month in Egypt, while the average price for sub-Saharan Africa is between 250 and 300 USD per month. Arab business leaders are beginning to address this disparity. Etislat, a mobile phone company, is installing a high-capacity 110 million USD fiber optic submarine cable system between Mombassa, Kenya and Fujairah, UAE, which will bring increased broadband access to Eastern Africa. Similarly, Egyptian computer manufacturing centers which supply Libya and Nigeria are beginning to restructure their supply chains as to better serve sub-Saharan Africa.
However, Egypt is not a complete success story either. An Alexandria University professor estimated that the country was still 94% computer illiterate, while Microsoft speculates about 10% of Egyptians routinely access the Internet either at home or in Internet cafes. Microsoft has also implemented the Home PC Initiative, which will ultimately put 10,000 computers into low-income Egyptian homes at the cost of LE 50 (less than 10 USD) a month. The spread of computer hardware, computer literacy, and broadband would not only aid in Egypt’s development and the overall technical capacity of its workforce in the increasingly global economy, but would also assist in almost all other development efforts by facilitating technology transfer and communication.
The Business Today article ends by sounding a call for social entrepreneurs to assist in the development of broadband and computer literacy, mimicking what business has already done. Will we see any social entrepreneurs step up to the plate and address this niche?