Google Software deals in East Africa

An article on the technology news site ZDNet reports that Google has signed software deals in East African countries. These deals will have Google supplying hosted software services to government workers in Rwanda and students in Kenya. While African (sub-Sahara to be exact) lags behind the rest of the world in the use and adoption of technology, the Internet presents an opportunity to be inventive and creative in effort to have sub-Sahara Africa catch up with the rest of the world.

Over the weekend, I was configuring a domain to run Google Apps and the process was straight forward; most of the delays being due to the nature of the Internet – propagation of changes to DNS records and such. Google Apps is an interesting collection of services that can prove to be useful to organizations various sizes. While all the services under the Google Apps banner are still in beta, they show a promise and some of the basic functions are already in place. Perhaps of interest to the sub-saharan region is the access to these services through a mobile device.

Mobile devices will play an important role in technology adoption in sub-sahara Africa. The rise and popularity of mobile phones for voice communication seems a good omen for what the future holds for communications technology development in the region. Text messaging is popular amongst the youth and some of the older generations are also appreciating it more. The significance of text message in mobile phone market can be exploited to include more data intensive applications.

A platform or perhaps an infrastructure such as the internet becomes relevant in the provision of these data intensive services but at the same time governments and players in the telecommunications industry need to understand that for data intensive services to become a reality, the internet itself must be available, accessible and affordable. It would help to think of the internet as a basic infrastructure in which government can and should take a leading role in stimulating its development and spread. The basic model of making money out of data services to consumers is to provide data services that is of interest at a price that a single consumer can afford (e.g. the cost of a text message). Google has done this with their search engine ads business and their expertise in leveraging the power of the masses can not be disputed (so far).

Technology adoption in sub-sahara Africa depends on the mobile device and access to reliable and affordable internet services. It is practically impossible to think of technology adoption in terms of “a personal computer in every household”; instead the mantra for sub-sahara Africa should be “a mobile device for every household” and then move on from there.

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