The African e-lag

Internet usage

Africa is one of the richest continents in terms of natural resources, yet most of it is steeped in poverty. In the third world countries there are many basic things needed as a priority over Internet infrastructure (like food, water, shelter), however in a “semi-first-world” country like South Africa, the economy would benefit immensely from the basic business infrastructures that we take for granted here in the UK:

  • pervasive, high performance Internet
  • a fast, reliable postal system (and yes I am indeed referring to Royal Mail – don’t sound so surprised)
  • reliable utilities (water, electricity)

Just the presence of good internet and postal system creates a platform for thousands of online retailers to exist. If people don’t have Internet access they can’t buy online, and without a cost effective, reliable postal system, whatever you buy will be more expensive than on the high street, and probably never reach you. As for reliable utilities, during a recent series of power outages in SA, a friend of mine who runs a furniture factory was out of production for 3 days in one month which cost his business about £600K.

So how far behind is a country like South Africa when it comes to Internet usage? If you visit as a tourist, your impression will be one of a first world country and you’d expect it to be quite high… but take a look at this graph showing the massive gap between SA and USA/UK. It really illustrates how much of the country lives in poverty without something that we take for granted as a staple component of our lives…



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