Mobile ‘renaissance’ to boost sustainable development
In recent we have seen major investments in the telecommunication industry to facelift and improve communication infrastructure in Africa. This is evident with the Fibre-optic submarine cables, Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSY) and West Africa Cable System (WACS) completed in 2010 and 2012 respectively, which connected several African countries to major international routes in Europe and the Americas. These developments led to an African mobile ‘renaissance’ which increased access to mobile networks, broadband services and skyrocketed mobile subscriptions.
There were about 6.2 billion mobile phones subscriptions worldwide being used by 4.2 billion people by 2015, according to the World Bank. Moreover, mobile phone manufacturer Ericsson estimated that the figure would reach about 9 billion by 2017. At present, around 75 percent of all mobile users are located in developing countries. Statistics also shows that about 50% of sold handsets are smartphones, implying that there are still many subscribers who use their phones for calls and text messaging only.
With their ability to fast-track communication and connect a large number of people in next-to-no time and with relative ease, mobile phones are emerging as the preferred modus operandi for a number of organisations, activists or social entrepreneurs looking to solve an issue by going straight to the heart of the community that is affected by a specific issue. The arrival and explosion of mobile technology allows people in remote areas to transfer money, pay bills and receive crucial information.
Many people have access to the Internet today in Namibia. I believe that in the near future, more people will access the Internet via their mobile devices than any other computers. This is because of: the portability of mobile technologies; increased development in computational abilities and the fact that mobile phones don’t need to be constantly hooked up to a power source and their batteries generally have a longer battery life and can be better managed than laptop batteries.
The propagation of mobile devices alone speaks for itself. Statistics show that there are more mobile phone subscriptions than people on the planet today, this is true even here in Namibia, where an average person is believed to own at least two mobile phones.
Wide availability of mobile phones brings new prospects and make mobile as the first channel for Africans; Namibians included. This channel can be exploited by powering mobile phones with rich data available on open data portals by visualising the data via apps and solutions that deliver services. Mobile phones do not only present a great opportunity to revolutionise how people interact, thinks, access information and services. The advancement in technology has enabled mobile devices to become cheaper, bandwidth and network coverage growing stronger; the adoption of mobile devices still continues to grow. Given the ubiquity of mobile phones and their use among a broad cross-section of the global population, many creative thinkers are harnessing the potential of mobile technology to bridge knowledge gaps, alleviate poverty and help our environment.
Today the world is faced with many challenges, from natural calamities to fast depleting natural resources and many other shortcomings. However, the power of mobile phones can be leveraged to sensitize people about how to take care of the environment and sparingly use resources. Sustainable usage of our resources is inevitable if we are to preserve mother earth. Reiterating the words of the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) Mr Ban Ki-Moon, we only have one earth and we should do everything in our power to ensure that it’s protected. For example, we need a solution that will monitor households’ water consumption, thus sensitize citizens to use this scarce resource sparingly.
During the state of the nation address of 2016, President Hage Geingob launched the Harambee Prosperity Plan, an accelerated plan aimed at significantly reducing inequalities, alleviating poverty and uplifting the standards of all Namibians. The plan highlighted some challenges that can be overcome by using Information communication & technology (ICT), such as:
The unavailability of electricity infrastructure in semi-urban and remote rural areas hindering both the provision and uptake of ICT services.
Insufficient telecommunication backhaul infrastructure to very remote rural areas.
The unit cost of rolling out infrastructure is high and this negatively influences the affordability and price points of key services.
ICT literacy is relatively low in Namibia, which inhibits the uptake of e-commerce and Internet access.
There are limited Internet access points in public facilities especially in rural areas.
Lack of understanding of the relevance of ICT, which results in low resource provision, and usage of available ICT capacity.
High import taxes on ICT equipment and high fluctuations in exchange rates which further push the cost of imported equipment higher impacts affordability.
Furthermore, the Harambee Prosperity Plan also seeks to promote the development of e-services, encourage collaborations and innovation in the country. This is welcomed and has long been overdue. We, the Namibian developers and software engineers, are ready to continue implementing state of the art ICT solutions that will support and aid the government of the Republic of Namibia to effectively and efficiently realise e-education, e-health, e-agriculture, e-transport, e-mining by year two of Harambee.
Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is the country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc. Computer Science.