The Internet Society (ISOC) recently celebrated its 30th anniversary as a global nonprofit advocating for an open, globally-connected Internet while calling for accelerated action to further internet development throughout Africa. During the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC), 2022 that took place in Kigali, Rwanda under the theme Connecting The Unconnected To Achieve Sustainable Development, Dawit Bekele, Regional Vice President of the Internet Society in Africa, lauded progress made by stakeholders in expanding access throughout the continent while encouraging more collaborative efforts to bridge the digital divide.
As of now, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest growth in global Internet penetration, increasing from less than 1 per cent in 2000 to 30 per cent today. Between 2019 and 2021, internet use in Africa jumped by 23 per cent. Despite this impressive growth, there is still a coverage gap of over 840 million people who don’t have access to reliable and affordable internet access.
“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the value of internet connectivity which has been an essential lifeline for the continuity of business, healthcare, education, government, and other critical activities. We applaud the significant investments in the last decades to develop Internet infrastructure, which has made the internet available to more people across the continent. However, the pandemic also highlights the digital divide that remains, particularly in rural, remote and even urban areas around the world,” said Bekele.
In Kenya specifically, the rapid pace of internet ecosystem development since 2012 underscores the critical role that Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) and the accompanying infrastructure play in the establishment of strong and sustainable internet ecosystems. ISOC has conducted technical capacity training on internet routing technologies for network operators in Kenya and supported the development of community networks including TunapandaNET in Kibera, AHERI in Kisumu, and Lanet-Umoja in Nakuru.
It’s such initiatives and collaboration from the government that has propelled an increase in the number of internet users from 0.4 per cent in 2012 to 41.9 per cent of the population in 2020 with nearly 70 per cent of traffic localised. Localising internet traffic has led to significant cost savings for participating networks and puts the country in a strong position to participate in the digital economy. In Africa, ISOC has helped build community networks in South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Namibia, Morocco, Senegal, and Ethiopia.
WTDC has also made a pledge to support 100 complementary solutions to connect the unconnected, and to train 10,000 people to build and maintain internet infrastructure. The deadline is 2025 as part of the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition, an initiative led by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that aims to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation in the hardest-to-connect communities around the world.