Tag Archives: Africa

WiFi in Africa

Imagine if you had WiFi on the bus on the way to work.  How would you use your time differently?  While for most American’s, the answer is “no much differently”, for Africans who seldom, if ever, have an Internet connection, an hour or two of Internet connection on the way to work could profounder alter that way they communicate.  For some Africans in Kenya, WiFi on buses is becoming a reality.

The numbers are truly quite astounding: only 16% of Africans use the Internet, included 50% of Kenyans.  This is in contrast to the 15% of Americans who don’t use the Internet according to a recent Pew study on the topic.  The same study indicates that just 4% of Americans can’t afford or don’t have access to the Internet (which although quite small still seems high to someone like me who uses the Internet all the time.)  Only 32% of Asians use the internet, making it next-to-last in internet connectivity.

As a generation that has grown up in the Internet Age, I think we sometimes forgot how essential the internet is in our everyday lives, and how many little things it does for us.  We use it as a calculator, a map, a dictionary, an encyclopedia, an entertainment source, and a place of commerce.  For African’s, even internet with limited bandwidth could give them access to Google Translate, allowing them to communicate with those who speak a different tongue.  With the recent rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Africans with internet access have access to a large amount of education resources that could bring them out of poverty.  Frankly, for a society that is many years behind our own technologically, the Internet really serves as a great equalizer of knowledge and technology.

The undeniable fact is that the internet is a powerful tool, and the worldwide marketplace that it creates had spurred business development across the globe over the past quarter century.  Unfortunately, many Africans cannot afford what most Americans see as a necessity.  In have stepped many of the technology giants: Facebook, Google, IBM, and Intel have all begun work to make phone and internet service cheaper in Africa.  Whether out of altruism, or in order to plant seeds for economic prosperity in the future, these companies are helping to bring many Africans into the Internet age.

Google has taken a particular interest in connecting Africa to the Internet, and even has its own blog about their progress in the Sub-Saharan region.  Perhaps their grandest idea is Google Loon, a project that would use balloons floating above the continent to bring WiFi to people all over Africa, or even the globe.  Although Loon might not be a reality in the near future, this kind of innovative approach certainly gives a fresh take on how to provide people everywhere with the Internet.

As someone who has grown up in what is an increasing global age, where commerce stretches across national lines like never before, an improvement in technology, even across the globe, will lead to a more efficient economy, and more worldwide economic equality.  Africa, the continent that really lags behind the rest of the world (and has for a long time), is about to have their time on the world stage in the next century, and at the center of Africa’s technological revolution is the Internet.  If, or when, the majority of Africans have access to the Internet, I believe their economies will start to flourish like never before, and that day will be a great day not only for Africa, but for the entire world.

 

 

The Foil to Russian Energy Stranglehold (Part 2)

As mentioned in my earlier post, Russia’s foreign policy strength relies on its control of the natural gas that supplies Europe.  Unfortunately, this control allows for Russia to exert their influence and will over many issues, as seen with Crimea.  European fracking has the ability to change the landscape of political power between Europe and Russia.  Germany is one of the largest importers of Russian gas and is struggling with rising energy prices, making it significantly difficult for them to wane themselves off of Russian energy.  Where Germany is struggling with moving towards shale exploration and extraction, Poland is embracing fracking with open arms.  This past month, the Prime Minister of Poland signed a tax freeze on special taxes that used to be in place on the shale industry.  Both Britain and Poland are the leading proponents to allow for fracking.  The EU recently released guidelines on fracking instead of banning it, which is favorable for England and Poland in their hopes to employ fracking.

While I believe that fracking offers the European countries a way to reduce their reliance on Russian gas, there are many other factors that the EU and countries needs to take into consideration.  The projected reserves for shale gas and oil is often seen as an imperfect measure.  Poland’s project shale reserves have recently been revised significantly downward.  Many of the companies that Poland awarded exploration permits have abandoned Poland due to exploration and extraction not being commercially viable.  I believe though that these companies will soon be back.  The increasing natural gas prices due to global warming and Russian aggression will soon raise the price high enough that Poland’s shale reserves will become economically viable.  Another issue that many opponents of fracking have in Europe is that it will ruin the environment and destroy the English countryside.  Unfortunately, this again becomes a question of how much people value the environment.  How high will natural gas prices have to rise before the EU gives the green light to begin fracking.

Shale gas, while not environmentally friendly, looks to be the next global energy boom.  As prices in Europe continue to rise, it makes sense that Europe would look to take advantage of the large shale reserves that are present in Europe.  Africa looks to be the next continent to look towards shale energy with its large South African reserves, projected at 390 trillion cubic feet.  At this point, I believe that African shale extraction and exploration will come about more quickly than Europe due to the low regulation in Africa.  As of now, it looks like natural gas will be the next big energy supplier until renewable, green energies become more cost efficient.  The ability for Europe to become less reliant on Russia is extremely important for energy security in the future.  Unfortunately, economists project that it will take 4 years to a decade once for Europe’s shale boom to reach the same level as the US.  It took the US 25 years to reach the shale energy boom that we are now experiencing.  With the innovations that the US has come across with fracking, I believe that it will take Europe and Africa a lot less time to reach the shale boom.  Once Europe can stop relying on Russia for natural gas, it will be free of Russian influence through Gazprom.

Should not discount the prayers asking the domestic currency to rise!

On March 6, 2014, WSJ posted an article, In Africa, Calls for Heavenly (Currency) Intervention, which has showed how U.S. tapering decision as well as government deficits can put some countries in a miserable situation. Strictly speaking in term of economics, it is not hard to analyze the causes which are the reasons why some of countries in Africa are walking into the deep recession. As it was mentioned in this article, there are clear explanations why those African countries are suffering from weakening domestic currency against dollar.

First, countries in Africa are heavily relies on imports and their main exports are raw materials. President of Ghana said, “We’ve become a country that even imports toothpicks”. This also can apply to some of most developed countries among Africa, such as Nigeria, and South Africa. When a country is heavily depend on imported goods, price of imports gets more expensive when the value of foreign currency appreciates. This eventually derives high prices pressure in most of consumer goods and people suffer because they can afford less and less. This problems get worsen when their exports decreases. Most of countries in Africa are depended on raw commodities for their exports, and according to the WSJ, the price of gold fell by 28% last year.

It seems to me that there is no short-term escape from the both rise in government deficits and a rise in consumer goods. Maybe, this is why people in Ghana sincerely pray for their fallen currency to rise. I suspect many people who might have read this original article would laugh when they hear a statement like this:

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“I command the resurrection of the cedi! In the name of Jesus!” 

According to the WSJ article, this was the real word spoken by the pastor inside a mega-church called Action Chapel inside of Ghana. I do not have a religion, so I do not know exactly how Christine would interpret people’s behaviors in the church of Ghana when they asks God for rising their currency value, however I insist we should never discount their acts or prayers. Many times, we pray for our family of well-being, world-peace, success and etc. If we carefully dissect many of our “normal” prayers, I believe we can find a concrete cause and effect relationship. Similarly, we can see that concrete reasons for devaluation in Ghana’s currency are due to lack of infrastructure in the economy and government deficit. I am just worry about people who may call Ghana people stupid or irrational because they are praying for their fallen currency to rise. Their desperate hope for praying actually made more sense to me when I dissect their problems more in terms of economics perceptive. I found there is no immediate answer for them to get out of the misery but pray. In general, in order to defend a country from “currency war”, country needs to have a strong infrastructural industries, clean politics, and efficient monetary polies. None of these solutions come easy or happens in an overnight. So why not pray to the God if you cannot do anything to make immediate change? I believe praying is a good alternative for making people calm and give them time to think about building better future while they are praying. So no one should blame them for including the name of “Jesus” in their prayer. I hope God helps them.