Africa: Cloud Computing’s Secret Weapon
Cloud computing’s best opportunity for unparalleled progress and worldwide relevance lies in how deeply and effectively it penetrates the African information technology community. Point blank. Why is this so? Simply because the massive continent remains in the dark ages of technology of all sorts, a condition which has fostered as many difficulties in thwarting this lack of progress as it has defined Africa as a potential gold mine for the cloud computing set.
Reconnaissance of Africa’s technologically stunted growth provides vital context. As the African Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania concludes, “Africa seems to be the ‘lost continent’ of the information technologies. The second largest continent is the least computerized, and its more than two score countries have an average telephone density that is an order of magnitude smaller than that of the European Community.”
The article continues to point out that technological advancement is a princess problem for a continent unfairly troubled by historic and continued exploitation of its resources, civil unrest, and arguably some of the worst problems of health, economy, and education that Earth has ever witnessed. Cloud computing can hardly remedy these centuries-long tribulations singlehandedly.
Yet this IT revolution does have the propensity to introduce widespread internet connectivity and serve as a litmus test and crucible for cloud’s potential effectiveness to renovate communities and instigate authentic social change. The lessons cloud could learn from boosting Africa’s IT power could ripple into impoverished localities elsewhere in the world, including in the States.
ArsTechnica’s recent article on the subject of cloud in Africa outlines the primary specific areas of challenge and improvement on which cloud computing can focus: access to adequate power for data centers; the lack of sufficient broadband and telecommunications heft; and the nonexistence of any infrastructure that could currently sustain a major technological overhaul. Yet the article also defines this “Wild Wild West” aesthetic as cloud’s advantage and opportunity to demonstrate its wonders.
In the place of a traditional IT infrastructure has emerged an impressive precedent of mobile applications that saturate the continent, from SafariCom’s Mobile M-PESA to the Kenyan phenomenon of iCow, an app designed to help farmers manage cow husbandry and veterinary care and recently hailed by Forbes as Africa’s best.
Indeed, Africa’s boom in mobile technology — “by 2015, 138 million mobile users in Africa will be customers with no electrical utility service” — has laid the groundwork for cloud to galvanize its countries in an exciting way. Such specific IT empowerment, however, can only take place best when cloud concentrates on deep respect for individual African communities first, rather than a blind blanketing of Africa as a whole.
By Jeff Norman