Africa may be a late starter on the Internet but it is currently undergoing a rapid transformation, outpacing the global average for growth in number of host systems, according to statistics presented at a workshop on telecommunications reform here recently.
From July 1998 to January 1999, the number of Internet hosts grew at a rate of 38% from 7,800 to 10,703, while the worldwide average growth rate stood at 18%, said Mike Jensen of Communications Consulting, at an International Telecommunications Union workshop.
One factor driving the growth is the assistance provided by various foreign organisations. In particular, there is strong support from various Francophone support agencies concerned about the dominance of English on the Internet, with the result that French-speaking countries have a far higher Internet profile and more institutional connectivety than non-French speaking countries, Jensen said.
Continent-wide, northern and southern Africa are leading the west and east in terms of Internet development; central Africa, Jensen said, is grossly lagging behind.
South Africa in particular is developing rapidly, with about 225,000 dial-up accounts and hosting between 700,000 to 800,000 of Africa 's 1.2 million Internet users. South Africa also has more than 70 POPs (points of presence) in both metropolitan and rural towns, unlike most of Africa.
Also following the faster trend of development in southern Africa are Angola and Botswana, while in the north, Egypt and Morocco are leading, with Tunisia following.
Eastern Africa's leaders include Kenya and Uganda, while in west Africa, Senegal, Ghana and Benin are leading the trail. Cameroon is ahead of the rest of central Africa, followed by Gabon and then Nigeria.
The increasing use of the Internet in Nigeria may cause major changes on the continent because it is the most populous nation, Jensen said. The country has authorized some 38 Internet service providers to operate, and out of this number, 12 are already functioning.
Internet development in Africa is constrained by poor telephone infrastructure, low international bandwith and high dial-up tariffs levied on Internet users, according to Jensen. This has limited 'Net access to mostly those with a good education or IT staffers -- more or less an elite. Access to the Internet is mostly in major cities, sidelining the 70 percent of Africans who are rural dwellers.