As piloted in Senegal
Broadband, a General-Purpose Technology (GPT)1 of our time impacts our daily socio-economic endeavours in health, education, and industry, and is now more than just a technology. It is the gateway to a bright future where all countries can compete in the online digital economy; where governments can deliver innovative new e-government services; where the imaginations and skills of today’s children will deliver the inventions and innovations of tomorrow2 . This is the vision of the Smart Africa Alliance, to help Africa exploit broadband and create a seamless infrastructure to transform Africa into a Single Digital Market (SDM) by 2030. The development of a dynamic and innovative digital economy will facilitate growth and productivity, allow the development of smart services by generating additional social benefits and increase the number of jobs, thereby improving the lives of African citizens.
Broadband connectivity is the underlying enabler for the transformation that Africa seeks. Research to establish the relationship between broadband connectivity and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country demonstrates that an increase of broadband penetration results in an increase in GDP per capita growth. Indeed, econometric studies by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) published in 2019, made the finding that expanding mobile broadband penetration by 10% in Africa would yield an increase of 2.5% in GDP per capita. In addition, the study found that a 10% drop in mobile broadband prices would boost adoption of mobile broadband technology by more than 3.1%3 . The economic impact was reconfirmed by a similar empirical study directed by ITU that concluded that mobile broadband generated a 2.5% to 2.8% increase in GDP per capita for a 10% increase in penetration4 . Both studies are a clear illustration of the critical pathway for Africa’s development – that broadband is a driver for economic growth and the cheaper the broadband connectivity, the higher the broadband penetration which again spurs economic growth.
Connectivity to broadband and the accessibility to relevant content impacts lives even in the poorest countries, by boosting productivity and job creation. Unfortunately, with a broadband penetration of 34% by end of 20195 , majority of the African citizens had no access to broadband. Indeed, 45% in Sub Saharan Africa lived more than 25 km from a fibre node by June 20196 , hence widespread availability of broadband remained a significant hurdle for Africa to fully harness the full potential of digital transformation. An intervention is urgent and necessary.
Significant attempts to define the direction of broadband growth has been made by stakeholders in African and global development. The UN Broadband Commission7 established in 2010, has consistently promoted and tracked broadband development globally, and made practical recommendations for its growth. In 2019, the UN Broadband Commission set out global targets to focus national and regional efforts to 20258 . These targets provide a practical framework to evaluate the status in Africa and set out the pain points and a framework towards the targets. Smart Africa Alliance have set a 2025 timeline aligning with the UN Broadband Commission Targets which become a springboard to promote broadband in Africa.
The Targets provide a foundation to not only conceptualise and envision the future but also a basis for holistic strategic interventions to deliver ubiquitous broadband in Africa in line with the Smart Africa Alliance vision.