For a telecommunications industry hungrily seeking new avenues of growth, a surprising opportunity is emerging. Sub-Saharan Africa -- home to more than 650 million people, three-quarters of whom live on less than $2 per day -- has become the world's fastest-growing market for mobile-phone service. Last year alone, the number of mobile subscribers in the whole region shot up 37%, to 34.4 million, compared with a 32% rise in Eastern Europe, the No. 2 growth region, according to researcher Gartner Dataquest. 'It's just a huge opportunity,' says Ali B.M. Conteh, chairman of Vodacom Congo (DRC), the No. 1 mobile provider in the continent's third-largest country.
Do the math. 650 million people. Say, because of disease and famine only 1 in 10,000 live to be an adult genius. That's 65,000 adults smarter than almost anyone you or I know. Smart enough to learn english, then take thin scraps of material from the web and learn most anything. Back in the good old days, say @ 1995, I used to say Africa would one day be considered a prosperous rising nation.
Hey, I remember when Bangladesh was "the basket case of the world".
Remember when, in the boom years, we wanted to gird the world with high speed wireless via low earth orbit satellite? Gates liked the network that, by an accident of design, would have brought cheap net access to all of Africa. He's not all bad.
We never built those satellites (though Iridium is still hiring, but Africa won't build analog phone networks. By the time they build, 3G will be the only option.
Maybe Africa won't be the next India by 2008. But, by 2018? Bangaloreans will be furious about jobs lost to Lahore.
Or not. If we don't put furious effort into mitigating the ravages of HIV, Africa may truly fail, and in dying spawn a thousand al Qaedas -- with better weapons and smarter operatives.
Maybe we shouldn't let that happen?