Bridging the Digital Divide Remains a Major Challenge in the Least Developed Countries
The digital connectivity divide separating the globe’s least developed countries (LDCs) from the world as a whole shows no sign of narrowing. In fact, it is widening on key factors, according to ITU’s latest “Facts and Figures: Focus on Least Developed Countries”. While the share of the population in LDCs using the Internet has increased since 2011 from 4% to 36%, almost two-thirds of the LDC population remains offline. LDCs also still face numerous barriers to meaningful connectivity, including lack of infrastructure, affordability, and skills. Although no single figure can capture all aspects and complexities of the digital divide, the gap between LDCs and the world in the share of people using the Internet has actually increased from 27 percentage points in 2011 to 30 percentage points in 2022.
That being said, about 66% of people in southern Africa are internet users. In east Africa the figure is 26%; it is just 24% in central Africa. People in rural areas have far less access than those in the continent’s urban areas. In January 2023, Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, which manufactures and launches spacecraft and communication satellites, announced that its Starlink service was available in Nigeria. This was a first for the continent. It has also since become available in Rwanda. Starlink is a satellite-based internet service. It is set to be rolled out elsewhere on the continent, including the DRC, Kenya and Tanzania, later this year. More coverage is to come in 2024. This could be an important way to fill Africa’s connectivity gaps, which are caused by poor digital infrastructure and the high costs of investing in fibre optic cables or mobile phone masts, particularly in rural and remote areas. The UN’s aim is reach universal access across Africa by 2030, but this will not be possible without innovative approaches. For more on this issue, look see Michelle Chivunga’s and my paper for SAIIA, Driving Digital Inclusion within the AfCFTA’s Framework – https://saiia.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/SAIIA_OP_338_DrivingDigitalInclusion.pdf
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