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Opinion: It's Europe and America's internet. Africans just live in it

Two boys play with a cellular phone in Ethiopia. Figures show that mobile penetration in Africa is at an all time high.
Two boys play with a cellular phone in Ethiopia. Figures show that mobile penetration in Africa is at an all time high.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Africa is on fire right now when it comes to be at the forefront of innovation in mobile
  • Africa has a huge potential for mobile app creators and companies that rely in the mobile space
  • There are 695 million mobile subscriptions in Africa and it is predicted to hit 735 million by the end of 2012

Editor's note: Michelle Atagana is the managing editor of memeburn.com, a social media and technology news site. She has a Masters Degree in New Media and Journalism, her thesis focuses on social media technologies in the South African journalistic space with some focus on the public sphere. She attended the LeWeb tech conference held in London 18 - 20 June.

London, England (CNN) -- Running a technology news site based in South Africa that focuses on tech news from Africa and Emerging Markets it's to be expected that I am a little attached to the region.

According to a Mckinsey report ICT spend in Sub-Saharan Africa is approximately $70 billion and will nearly double by 2015. There is also no doubt Africa is on fire right now when it comes to being at the forefront of innovation in mobile (which is where the future of the web lies) with hubs in Kenya and Nigeria.

Read more: How mobile broadband can transform Africa

Michelle Atagana
Michelle Atagana

So naturally when the "all star entrepreneur" panel took the LeWeb stage, I asked: "So are any of you investing in Africa?" The panel: "No". No? why not? TechCrunch founder and former editor Michael Arrington says it's because he hasn't been pitched anything from Africa.

The rest of the panel, included: YouTube founder Chad Hurley, Digg founder Kevin Rose, and Skype founder, Niklas Zennström.

LeWeb is an event that champions the next stage in our online evolution and yet there seems to be very little African presence or discussion around the future of the web there.

More: 10 African tech voices to follow on Twitter

More and more are accessing content on their mobile devices, because let's face it, this is where the world is heading. As Africans we arrived late to the internet party and most of the cool innovative party favors were gone.

But we are hungry for access and content. Hence the huge potential in Africa for mobile app creators and companies that rely in the mobile space. Few of the companies presenting at LeWeb seems to have a focus in Africa, they seem intent on conquering the European market.

Yes some want to conquer China and the rest of Asia too. But why are they ignoring Africa? What did we do?

East Africa's most advanced city

A few questions immediately come to mind. Is it a case of access? Internet penetration?

Kenya's internet generation

Access

Is that still a major issue? According to the head of GSMA, there are 695 million mobile subscriptions in Africa and it is predicted to hit 735 million by the end of 2012.

The most common mobile device in southern parts of Africa is the Samsung E250 and it can access the web. More than 5% of Sub-Saharan Africans own the Nokia N73, according to researchers at TNS Global. Mobile penetration in Africa is about 70% or so. Access? Done.

Read more: Mobile phone: Weapon against global poverty

Most of the speakers are from the USA. All are innovating in various ways true but there are equally innovative and quite frankly more useful products coming out of Africa.
Michelle Atagana

Internet Penetration

According to research from Internet World Stats, Africa still has the world's lowest internet penetration rate at 13.5%. Not an attractive figure for potential investors maybe?

No, it says there is huge potential for growth. That figure says that there is an 86.5% growth potential if we want to add numbers to it. Low internet doesn't mean a deadzone.

Africa is moving on quite swiftly then. There are companies such as Google, that recognize this growth potential in Africa and they are beginning to invest in the continent. Google has launched the Umbono project in South Africa and Tahrir2 in Egypt.

Read more: Humans, lose your cyberphobia

I suppose the argument could be that LeWeb isn't focused on Africa because it is designed for Europe and how technology is shaping the continent. Maybe, but most of the speakers are from the USA.

All are innovating in various ways true but there are equally innovative and quite frankly more useful products coming out of Africa. Where are the speakers from Africa? Someone from Ushahidi for instance should be here.

The non-profit software company that develops open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. Surely it has more to say about the innovative use of technology than Path.

Then there is innovation in social and communication companies such as Mxit, which is a mobile communication platform across all types of devices, and if you listen to its new CEO Alan Knott-Craig Jnr, it is well on its way to "conquering the African market".

This particular conference is backed by government. That signals something important: European government cares about innovation in tech and perhaps innovating with it. Take note here African governments.

When I bumped into Michael Arrington before his session he seemed to think there isn't much Africa can do for his fund. He also seems to think there is a security issue in Africa. Can this really still be the notion that Africa has nothing to offer when it comes to the web and how we are evolving?

Take a trip to Cape Town, Lagos and Nairobi or attend an Africa Gathering event, which champions African tech growth, and see how wrong you are.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michelle Atagana.

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