Russell SouthwoodRussell Southwood publishes one of Africa’s leading newsletters on technology: The Balancing Act. He’s talk was going to be about tech, wealth and culture. He was inspired John Perry Barlow’s dream of wiring the Internet in Africa as written in this great piece written Wired. Russell referred to what he calls Door Openers which may allow Africa to skip much of the industrial revolution.

The first is what he calls “selling shortage and corruption.” About a decade ago it took so long to get a land line people resorted to bribing officials to get to the front of the queues. Cellphones have removed the need for landlines to a large extent. You can walk into most cellphones shops, buy a cellphone and get a SIM card within minutes.

Russell further described bandwidth as the fuel of the new economy. When you have high costs, you have low volume. And this keeps business out of Africa. When you compare this with low cost airlines, the model changes to low cost, high volume. (In South African we now have three low cost airlines!) Kenya has 32 million people with only 2 million that have bank accounts. And only have half a million can afford broadband. Now you may wonder if there is a demand. An example was given of 650,000 exam results published on the Web and how 220,000 students went online to check their results. There is a single cable that connects Africa to the Internet, the infamous SAT3, controlled exclusively by Telkom in South Africa. The African ISP association has been successful in campaign for the reduction in bandwidth, especially on SAT3. There are some very good precedents e.g. terrestrial radio stations. A decade ago there was only a handful and now there are over 1,500 across Africa.

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