Africa is firmly in last place when it comes to the development of the digital society, unless you count the Antarctic, but looking towards the failures of other emerging markets might help things along.
First of all you have to address the hurdles which Africa is facing. Firstly, the network is not up to scratch. Secondly, the digital skills gap is exceptionally large. Thirdly, smartphone penetration is only around the 25% mark. And finally, local content is almost non-existent. All of these hurdles are tricky ones, unlikely to be solved overnight, but we’re going to concentrate on the final one.
This was a fleeting topic at AfricaCom, but it popped up often enough to warrant a mention. It has also been noted as the reason digitalization in markets such as LATAM, the Middle East and certain areas of Asia has been slow.
Let’s assume for the moment the rest of the problems have been solved. There is a solid network throughout the continent, the population is digitally capable and smartphone penetration is up to the levels comparative to Europe and North America. Content will become an issue.
To encourage people to be digital, there has to be a reason to enter the digital world. In the established markets we already have this reason. There is plenty of content out there to keep even the most energetic of digital bunnies busy, but this isn’t the case in Africa. When you look at the developing markets, there is very little local content generation.
This is not an issue when you don’t have a comprehensive digital platform, but it is worth thinking about as content will have to grow with the connectivity footprint. This is what failed in LATAM, the Middle East and certain areas of Asia; a lack of local content meant essentially all you were searching for was English content or YouTube. Unless you have local content, you will not give users any reason to go online.
We might be getting ahead of ourselves here, as there are still monumental challenges faced in Africa. We’ve discussed these challenges at length this week at AfricaCom, but this is one which is also worth bearing in mind.