There is no doubt that despite the relative high cost of bandwidth here in Africa, the Internet has become a big blessing to everyday Africans like myself and almost a billion others out there.
For a long time, we’ve had to contend with a myriad of obstacles in getting access to information and knowledge for various ends. For instance, it’s now just a matter of goolgling one’s question to have access to milions of resources, an exercise that takes a maximum of one minute.
Contrast that with times past when one had to travel physically to the local library (if there’s any your community) and pray there are books there that matter to your quest. I once walked into an internet cafe and was very happy to see a young girl of about 12 years old reading an article on Wikipedia about the periodic table. Chances are this girl will forever keep turning to the Internet for almost all her academic work and research.
There is almost not a sphere of our lives here that has not yet been influenced by the modern virtual world. From health to education to politics, the Internet has permeated and is here to stay. Of course it also comes with it negative effects, with the popular being what we term in local parlance as ‘Sakawa‘ or Internet fraud.
That notwithstanding, the benefits that the Internet bestows upon Africans far outweigh its detriments. However, the net as we know it, is under threat from an African perspective, and this threat is none other than what I prefer calling the app craze.
Rather than focusing on creating easily accessible applications and content irrespective of device and platform, we’re seeing an increasing shift to locked down systems where one is coaxed into the use of apps to get the best of that platform. Of course if you live in an environment where you’re surrounded by people wielding N1s and iPhone 4s, apps might be cool.
However, when you’re still surrounded by people wielding monochrome phones with browsers that only display WAP pages, you begin to get worried at the app craze trend.
With an almost level playing field with contemporaries in advanced countries, the power of the Internet as a universal platform may not live long if the app craze currently raging is not countered by us (Africans) through the development of services, infrastructure, content and platforms that are suited to our perculiar conditions and context. Yes the Internet is leveling the playing field for everyday Africans, but we’ve got work to do to sustain that.