The proposal to officially create a United States of Africa may not have come at a better time than now when international trade is dictating the pace of development. Thanks to technological innovation. Recent trends indicate that the unity is already here. Through various communication technologies, Africa has transformed into a large business unit.
Over the past 5 years, the cost of communication in Africa has come down to manageable levels providing a wide menu of communication technology to choose from. The cost factor has largely dictated the choices made with an aim of bridging the digital divide.
Industries in a majority of African countries where governments have deregulated information and communication sectors have experienced considerable development thus enhancing regional and global trade. For example, Kenya and South Africa are in the process of laying cables that will bring high-speed internet connectivity allowing the continent to engage in e-commerce, explore new markets and lower the cost of international bandwidth. Other countries are turning to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as an affordable alternative to bypass expensive conventional telephone systems, for long distance calls. The International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) annual report indicates that outbound VoIP increased to more than 2 billion minutes in the last one year. African countries have also chosen to embrace ITU endorsed switchover to terrestrial digital broadcasting for television and radio to enable high quality real-time exchange of information and cultures by 2015.
Mobile telephony is on the increase in the continent. It is bound to grow further due to the increased need for global business communication. Mobile telephone service providers are embracing regional integration by converging their operations into single seamless networks ostensibly to improve access and lower the overall cost of international roaming. A good example is Celtel, whose operations in East and Central Africa are now seamlessly converged into one network that allows international roaming at existing local rates. Armed with one’s mobile telephone and a laptop, one can work from virtually anywhere.
Banking and other financial services are on the growth path with indigenous African banks opening up branches in regions where they were not allowed to operate before. For instance, Standard Bank South Africa recently merged with CFC Bank Kenya to support their growth in East Africa. Foreign direct investments have also been within the continent; thanks to technological innovation that allows all operations to be centralised.
Looking at history, various regional blocks in Africa have failed to meet their mandate due to various political reasons. Trade has however been self-sustaining because of its direct influence in economic development. If the idea of creating a United States of Africa is to create wealth, then we may argue that it is already here. What Africa needs is to strengthen existing structures, invest more in ICT and establish structures that support international trade and value addition.
By Ken Teyie
Ken Teyie works for All Times Media, Nairobi Kenya
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