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May 26, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa: Data for Africa

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By Kim Muller

Data is a vast and loaded word. Essentially it is defined as facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis, but with the internet in mind, it becomes so much more. Data – big data especially – plays a key role in identifying common behaviour, improving relevancy, helping with flexibility and social networking, and showing us that not all audiences are created equal, but are actually increasing in their diversity. In today’s digital age, data can help move your business forward, help you improve how you reach customers and so much more.

Data on Africa and the quality thereof has always been a problem for researchers and businesses. But this has recently begun to change as those on the continent realise how important it is for development. This month I’ve scoured into the annals of the interweb to find out exactly what digital data trends we’re seeing across the continent.

  1. African brands are going digital – and mobile!

In February this year, Lagos was the first African city to host Social Media Week, a global new media franchise. We’re all aware that mobile is the future of Africa, but there are many businesses who still have not readjusted to the fact. This is all beginning to change as companies take to social media to create better brand awareness, run competitions, get the word out on their CSR initiatives and of course, collect more data on their consumers. “At some point all our content will probably come from mobile and we’ll just flick it to our TV screens so it’s bigger,” Nigerian Rapper M.I predicted at SMW Lagos. “The screens will be interchangeable but the source will be mobile.”

  1. We need an “African Data Revolution”

Or at least, that’s what the Africa Data Consensus decided in Addis Ababa earlier this year. According to the conference report, “a sustained data revolution is needed to drive social, economic and structural transformation in every African country.” The report says the building blocks are in place, with national statistical offices as the backbone. The challenge, however, is that in today’s world a broad data ecosystem is needed to spans the entire value chain. And that’s a pretty big job if whole countries are involved. Read more at www.uneca.org/datarevolution and watch this space.

  1. Africans are standing up for their digital rights

Nnenna Nwakanma is co-founder of The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa and is one of the bright voices standing up for the continent’s digital rights. A recent Deliotte report (more data!) estimated that if internet penetration rates in developing countries could be raised to those of developed countries, GDP growth would climb by 72% and 140 million new jobs would be created. That’s massive number that African countries simply cannot afford to ignore, and with it comes a fight to secure Africa’s digital future. Nnenna sums it up nicely: “The internet has grown so powerful that many, governments and businesses alike, want to colonise it for their own ends. Just as the Windhoek Declaration resulted in World Press Freedom Day, the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms is an opportunity for Africa to take a leading role in advancing communication rights and securing Africa’s growth in the digital era…The biggest threat to the Web today is not actually from companies or governments. Instead, the biggest threat is us simply taking it all for granted.”

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