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How technology is changing perceptions of Africa

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Think about Africa.

 

Which images cross your mind when you picture the continent?

 

When asked to imagine Africa, many people conjure up images of white beaches, orange skies and dusty savannahs. Thoughts of the continent don't necessarily bring to mind a thriving technology sector. 

Clearly, Africa is a continent of extremes - comprised of over 50 countries and home to over 1,000 languages.

 

Africa’s diversity is inconceivable - from the colourful city of Marrakech in the north, to the thriving savannah plains of Kenya, to the golden beaches of Ghana. And, with an estimated 60% of the population under the age of 25, a fresh-faced, hopeful, and innovative generation is coming to the fore, eager to change perceptions of Africa.

 

In particular, the technology and communications sector is thriving. From instant money exchange over mobile phones, to the use of drought-resistant seed varieties in farming, technological advances are providing local people with political power, global connectivity, and growing economies.

Here are three ways technology is revolutionising the lives of African people:

Money exchange over mobile phones

Many African countries have leapfrogged the use of landlines and moved straight to mobile phones, creating a new opportunity for innovators to get creative. In Kenya, Vodafone and Kenya’s own Safaricom created M-Pesa, a money transfer system for mobile phones which the majority of the adult population now use.

With M-Pesa, all monetary exchanges are completed via basic mobile phones. Rural families no longer need to travel for hours to visit the bank or risk sending money in the mail - all transfers can be done through the secure mobile phone exchange. Previously, if locals needed to pay their bills or go shopping, they would have to carry around large sums of cash, leaving them vulnerable to robbers – now, this new cashless system ensures that people feel safer and that their money is secure.

New seed varieties and agricultural apps

Climatic changes, rapid urbanisation, and an exponential population growth mean that Africa’s agricultural landscape is changing dramatically, and coming under increasing pressure. To accommodate these changes, technology is now incorporated into traditional farming methods.

New climate-smart crop varieties have been introduced across the continent with remarkable success. A drought-tolerant maize was introduced in 2006 and has now been adopted in 13 African countries. Not only does this new seed variety produce an increased yield throughout droughts, it promises a 20-30% increase over farmers’ current yields.

With increased mobile phone use throughout the population, new apps are being developed to help the agricultural sector. Created by Kenyan farmer Su Kajumbu, iCow is an app which can be used on basic mobile phones to register individual animals, with SMS reminders sent to inform farmers about “the milking schedules, immunisation dates and tips about nutrition and breeding or information about local vets or artificial insemination providers.” Farmers can then make informed decisions about their animals to ensure the best yields.

Technology is revolutionising agriculture and, as long as these projects are implemented with local knowledge and cultural sensitivity, they are certain to ensure continued economic growth across the continent.

Technology as a political tool

Despite Africa’s economic growth, many people feel underwhelmed by the speed of development, placing blame on the corruption and exploitation still rife in African politics and in community spheres.

In the past, many Africans have been powerless against corrupt leaders - but now local people can access legal information online, and then report crooked officials and organise groups across their country to protest unjust governmental actions. Information is power and, as more and more locals gain access to information and communications networks, positive change, driven by empowered, educated, connected people, looks increasingly likely.

New advances will also help local people during times of crisis. In Kenya, Ushahidi has been created – an online mapping system which shows violent outbreaks so people can safely navigate their way through their country.

Technology is a key driving force for change and it will be interesting to see what other innovations come from this extraordinary and diverse continent over the coming years.

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