Africa\'s Flight to Prosperity

Published on 8th November 2005

Poor infrastructure is a major barrier to development and the war on poverty in Africa. But wait a minute, can we think outside the box for a second? Mobile cell phone technology penetration to Africa has tremendously changed the way business both at the micro and macro levels is performed. Farmers are quickly moving away from the use of middle men to direct marketing, villages that would have ordinarily taken over two centuries to get government phone landline services are now connected in a matter of seconds.

 

Cell phone usage in Kenya has made life easy in terms of setting appointments, warning of danger (especially political riots) and sending of text messages whenever one is in distress. Kenyan politicians have even gone a mile further; they use text messages to campaign!

 

A recent report in ‘Financial Standard’ points at an innovation by a Non Governmental Organization in Emali that has facilitated the linking of farmers to their market. The Kenya Livestock Marketing Council collects information and disseminates the same to farmers via text messages. Farmers are kept abreast of market prices of their products in various parts of the region hence enabling them to make strategic moves to areas that favor their price.

 

According to the Commission for Africa Report popularly referred to as the ‘Blair Report on Africa’, infrastructure is a key component to investment climate. Mobile cell phone use expanded from 20,000 users in 1993 to an estimated 18.2 million in 2003. What lessons can African policy makers learn from the growth of cell phone industry?

 

Africa ought to draw a different development model from developed nations. Move away from the old model that you must have roads, railways, fixed line telephones and huge office blocks. Instead of investing in landline telephony, the whole of Africa can quickly get connected through mobile phones in less time and ignite benefits to the continent. The people of Africa have a lot to gain by ensuring high internet connectivity that will facilitate marketing of African products, while at the same time providing an educational avenue. What about roads, any inventor of mobile roads?

 

Yes! Africa is lucky. According to IATA, air transport infrastructure can be developed more efficiently than road or rail. It is also estimated that a 10% increase in air transport utilization adds to GDP by 1.6%. Should Africans go for the G8 money that is likely to tax air travel? Absolutely no! Africans must quickly resurface the African Union protocols that promote liberalization of air transport for member states.

 

The focus should be towards making air travel in Africa safer, reliable, and increasing intra Africa connectivity. Make it easier and cheaper for an average African to travel by air, by allowing more investors in the aviation industry to do business in this continent. Can Africa fly to prosperity?

 

 

Yes indeed. Allow more cell phone company investors into the market, more internet service outlets, and more airplane companies to invest in Africa. In a nutshell, open the African airspace, cyberspace and cell phone space! It will be great for the famine stricken population in Niger, to text their counterparts in Nigeria to supply cereals and get an airline delivering the same in a matter of minutes. That is increasing the value of air transport from focusing only on tourism, to cargo movement. If roads are bad, expensive to connect Africans, insecure, what about air travel and airports? Air travel can form the hubs from which wealth generated can build and sustain roads and other types of infrastructure. If we really need to develop, why can\'t we give a tax holiday incentive to any company that can connect two parts of Africa by air either through supply of jet planes and or construction of runways? Over to you!


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