The continent of Africa is traditionally and widely known to be a late adopter of technological trends and as a continent, we tend to incorporate outdated and the ‘not-so-current’ technology into our infrastructure whereas other economies have moved on to much more refined and sophisticated products. Some have argued that Africa is a late adopter because there seem to be a dearth of technology advanced companies and businesses which are in a position to make technologically advanced goods and gadgets that can compete with gadgets coming from other parts of the world.
They maintain that line of argument by making the fact that if Africa had a ‘Microsoft’ or an ’Apple’ we would have created much better ways we could use technology and technical infrastructure to improve our lives. Because we as Africans have challenges that are unique to us therefore adopting technology from other continents to solve our problems might not lead us to the results we desire. Therefore the inadequacy of African based technology companies to create solutions to our unique problems as a continent is what has led to the adoption of technology from other parts of the world which seem to have worked. But we adopt those technologies rather late which makes us trail behind the continents where the technology originates from. Although this point is a very valid argument, there are very important technologies and developments in the area of payments such as bitcoin which is increasingly gaining roots in Africa just as any part of the world. Bitcoin enthusiasts are also passionate about spreading the benefits of bitcoin and its ability to solve several trade challenges to the masses.
Issues concerning poverty and wealth has also been cited as one of the key reasons Africans have been late adopters of technology, especially when the average technological gadget such as a new laptop or smart phone is deemed expensive because it is imported. The average price of a shiny new laptop or smartphone can cost almost as much as the gross national product Per Capita of a small African country. Access to buying a mobile device or laptop on credit from a telecoms service provider or bank lies strictly in the preserve of the middle class therefore those without bank accounts or individuals in the informal sector are ruled out of taking advantages of the services technology provides.
Thanks to markets in Asia such as China and Thailand that produces cloned version of the high end smartphones we see on the market at a cheaper price. Those cloned phones are highly popular and can perform the basic functions an original phone or laptop from the manufacturer can perform but they tend not to be as durable due to the inferior parts that are used in assembling the phones. For example, copious number of statistics has shown that we’re the only continent that side stepped personal computers be it desktop or laptops and zoomed straight into the use of smartphones. This is in part because laptops and desktop computers are relatively expensive than the average smartphone.
Some of the causes of late adoption on the part of the African can also be attributed to other factors such as the inadequacy of infrastructure example electricity, trust issues, resistance to change and the inadequate appreciation of how technology can really simplify and make our lives better.
Although Africans have typically been seen as late adopters, such perceptions are gradually becoming a thing of the past. The awareness of how technology especially the internet can make our lives better is fast gaining roots and a lot more people young and old, rich and poor are buying into the benefits of technology. Telecoms services providers have also played a great role in the awareness of internet use and the importance of technology in the life of the African. These days major telecom providers give generous internet packages at a reduced fee. Internet penetration across Africa is generally very high and quite impressive in countries such as Kenya, Tunisia, Seychelles, Cape Verde, Egypt and South Africa whiles countries such as Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and Nigeria have satisfactory internet penetration results according to the Internet World Statistics council in 2014. Deeper internet penetration has also led to the rise of social media usage especially amongst the youth making information dissemination a very quick and easy process. The youth demographic is a prized group for marketers and producers of goods and services alike because they make up the 16-32 year group who can be extremely loyal to a product and become a lifetime consumer of that product. These people also write great reviews online for a service or product and can actually recommend a product they liked to their friends and followers.
It is not uncommon for a news item to be blown out of proportion especially on social media mainly on Facebook and Twitter. These days, flagship television and radio programs have their peculiar hashtags which engages the audience to a whole new level. The rapid development of technology and internet has also created jobs that hitherto did not exist. For example 20 years ago, there were no job titles such as Community manager, social media manager and social media marketing experts. The creation and popularity of these jobs shows the way technology and the internet has come to be an integral part of our lives.
Bitcoin is doing some fantastic work in the peer-to-peer payment arena, this amazing technology is being taken advantage of in several parts of the world to make payments simpler and easier. As a continent, we still have challenges with trade and payments. Bitcoin has decentralised payment for Africans to also use this opportunity to carry out cross border trade and payments. As the use of technology and internet penetration continues to grow in Africa, bitcoin awareness can only increase whiles harmonising the way we as Africans make payments and carry out business transactions with the rest of the world. Africa as a continent is gradually shedding off the late adopter stigma, thanks to bitcoin we have found our way forward with regards to payments moving up the technology chain.
Kwaku Abedi is a freelance writer/editor based Accra-Ghana. He has an interest in bitcoin and writes on how bitcoin can reduce Africa’s teeming trade challenges