Cape Town — Google has announced plans to invest U.S.$1 billion over five years to support Africa's digital transformation. The tech giant said that the investment will focus on enabling fast, affordable internet access for more Africans, building helpful products, supporting entrepreneurship and small business, and helping non-profit organizations to improve lives across the continent.
The announcement was made at Google's first-ever Google for Africa event, held virtually and live-streamed.
"We have made huge strides" but more work is needed to make "internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African. Today I'm excited to reaffirm our commitment to the continent through an investment of $1bn over five years to support Africa's digital transformation to cover a range of initiatives from improved connectivity to investment in startups," said CEO of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai.
The tech giant is also building a subsea cable - Equiano - to help bring faster internet to more people and lower connectivity costs. The cable will run along the coasts of South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria, and St Helena and connect the continent with Europe. The investment will also provide low-interest loans to help small businesses and equity investments in African startups, Google said in a statement.
In addition, Google's five-year investment will further include an Africa Investment Fund through which it will invest U.S.$50 million in startups and provide them with access to Google's employees, network, and technologies to help them build meaningful products for their communities.
The company said it would additionally disburse U.S.$10 million in low-interest loans to small businesses in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa, to alleviate hardships brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. This will be managed by Kiva, a California-based non-profit microfinance company.
According to the World Bank, "internet reliability is a problem in Africa where less than a third of people are connected to broadband. But the continent, where nearly half the population is under 18, is a promising market." However, internet access is also hampered by the affordability of smartphones. The tech company said it will partner with Kenya's telecoms giant Safaricom to launch affordable Android smartphones for first-time users. The project will later be rolled out across the continent with other carriers such Airtel, MTN, Orange, and Vodacom.
The announcement expands Google's ongoing support for Africa's digital transformation and entrepreneurship. In 2017, Google launched its Grow with Google initiative with a commitment to train 10 million young Africans and small businesses in digital skills. To date, Google has trained over six million people across 25 African countries, with over 60 percent of participants experiencing growth in their career and/or business as a result.