Africa, Web Access: What Google's Doing Right

The other thing we often forget about Africa is that it is not monolithic, even though we often treat "the Dark Continent" as a single entity. No matter how many satellites you park in geosynchronous orbit over it, Africa will not all change at once, but country by country, region by region. In Africa at least, the "Other 3 Billion" should be more properly named, "A Million at a Time."

For example, I'll make the prediction right now that the adopt curve for O3b will be very quick for southern Africa, and very slow for the countries across the continent's midsection. South Africa, for example, may be a place of crime, rape and refugees these days, but it is also unquestionably a modern economy. You can already get broadband in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Capetown and all of the other big cities. Where O3b will have an impact is in the countryside and in the poor townships. Many of those folks already have cell phones -- or access to one by the minute from a corner shop -- so adoption should be almost instantaneous.

Much more interesting is that tier of countries that cross the continent just above South Africa: Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and up the eastern coast to include the old English colonies of Tanzania and Kenya. With the exception of Mozambique (which is racing to recover) and Kenya (with its recent problems), every one of these countries has been pretty much at peace for a generation or more. Every one of them is undergoing massive reconstruction and development, much of it funded by oil and natural resource land rushes taking place in their much wilder (and much less likely to benefit from O3b) neighbors like both Congos and Angola.

Of these countries, Malawi and Tanzania are among the most beautiful on the planet. Botswana, even with the scourge of AIDS, would make any list of the best countries on the planet -- no crime, beautiful people, a stable economy -- the Costa Rica or Switzerland of Africa.

Even crowded Zambia, its biggest city, Lusaka, teeming with millions of desperately poor people, has undergone a stunning metamorphosis in recent years. I used to look at the ubiquitous images of Zambian President Dr. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa and assume he was just another example of that scourge of African advancement, the "Big Man."

But he proved to be anything but -- instead, until his death a few weeks ago, he fought endlessly against poverty and corruption, and was about the only African leader to come out publicly against his neighbor Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. If Zambia can now successfully transition to a new government, it too will be ready to break out onto the world economy.

That leaves only Zimbabwe, which sits like a cancer in the center of sub-Saharan Africa. But Mugabe is ancient, and one can't help but think that beautiful nation's nightmare will soon end … but, of course, Mugabe has surprised us before.

What all of this means is that though (and with good reason) we think of Africa as the Sick Man of the World, a vast region of the continent is now ready to make the leap to the world economy -- and if a beachhead can be made there, there's no reason it can't steadily spread northward over the decades to come.

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