Over the past six years, between the Africa Connect summit in 2007 in Kigali and the Transform Africa summit which started last Monday, mobile phone penetration in Africa has nearly tripled, from 23.5% to 63.5%.
That was the good news brought at the start of Transform Africa by the secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Dr. Hamadoun Toure, who added that the use of ICT acts as a platform to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa.
Toure added that at the end of in 2007, Internet penetration was just 3.5%, but at the end of 2013 it is projected to be 16.3%, and said that he is convinced that with the rise of mobile broadband across the continent this trend will continue to increase over the next six years.
While that is obviously good news, it does not present the full picture. For instance, when free Wi-Fi was recently launched in Kigali, that was good news too. But the reality is that only a minority of the capital's resident has access to it - those rich enough to afford a Wi-Fi enabled device such as a smartphone, a table or a laptop with the appropriate hardware. While there is a growing number of owners of such devices, it is today still a minority in society, who most often already had the means to install Wi-Fi at home or buy a USB modem, or benefitted from Internet access at the office.
The same is true for the entire African continent, and therefore the participants at the Transform Africa summit should not forget one group of people who risk missing the boat: those with little or no access to the internet. These are people who, due to limited incomes, might only occasionally afford to go to an internet café and who, for the same reason, most often do not have a Wi-Fi device. And while they do benefit from certain services such as mobile money and SMS-based applications, they are still missing out on the richness that full Internet access can offer.
Therefore, Transform Africa should also be an occasion to look into what can be done to make Internet more accessible, notably by making Wi-Fi devices, especially smartphones, more affordable. Because while it is great that mobile phones have taken the continent by storm, the ultimate goal should be to get more people on board of the ICT, and Internet, train.