Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Africa's Silicon Valley in the heart of Sub-Sahara

To find the African version of Silicon Valley, you don't go to its richest nation in South Africa. Instead, you head to the heart to the Sub-Sahara in Kenya. The nation that still has quite a bit of poverty now has over 6 million broadband connections and 18 million internet users.

For more on how this internet expansion happened we read this article from the Guardian and writer David Smith.
Kenyans enjoy faster broadband connections than their counterparts in Africa's economic powerhouse, South Africa. And the government plans to build a $7bn (£4.36bn), 5,000-acre technology city that is already being branded Africa's "Silicon Savannah".
How did Kenya – a nation that still has its share of poverty and ethnic conflict – get here? "It started as a joke," said Dr Bitange Ndemo permanent secretary at the information and communications ministry. "We said we wanted to beat South Africa – and we did it."
For years Ndemo, a workaholic whose typical day runs from 5.30am to 11pm, found himself bogged down in talks with other African countries about linking to an undersea fibre optic cable that would bring high-speed internet access to millions of people.
"I did a calculation: we were spending more on hotel rooms discussing it than laying the cable," the 52-year-old recalled. "So we broke away and went it alone. South Africa thought we were joking. We didn't know anything about cables; I stayed up overnight reading about it on the internet."
That was 2007, Ndemo said, and two years later Kenya landed the cable in record time.
Since then the country has gone from fewer than 6,000 broadband connections to 6m, and from fewer than 3m internet users to 18m.
In Ndemo's grand vision, technology is not an optional luxury but rather central to 21st century education, development, economic growth – and ending Africa's reliance on foreign aid. He has ambitions for "e-learning" in schools across Kenya. "After the cable landed, we gave unlimited capacity to all the universities.
"Access enables us to become more innovative. Broadband allows people to build things you never thought of. Four or five years ago you could not put the words 'Kenya', 'innovation' and 'research' in the same sentence. Now it is starting to happen."

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