This month Microsoft, which has offices in 14 African countries, unveiled a smartphone to be sold in several African markets. It is made by China’s Huawei and uses Microsoft’s new operating system.
In Kenya Microsoft intends to bring broadband to places that do not yet have electricity, using solar power and “white spaces”, or spare broadcast-television frequencies. Within a year, says Fernando de Sousa, the general manager for Microsoft in Africa, 6,000 people in the Rift Valley will have access to broadband. Similar projects are planned elsewhere. Since October Microsoft has been running “app factories” for programmers in Egypt and South Africa.
(...) Kenya may be keenest. In 2006, frustrated by the slow progress of a regional plan to lay a fibre-optic cable along the east coast of the continent, Kenya negotiated its own link to the United Arab Emirates. The Gulf cable landed in 2009.
In many sectors, such as health care, education and water, as well as traffic, governments are sure to be important customers for IT companies. But private clients matter too, especially in telecoms and finance. The mobile phone, the first computer many Africans will own (see chart 2), is the bridge between the two.
To Westerners, “mobile banking” is a new way of doing something old. To many Africans, it is the obvious way of doing something new. In Kenya M-PESA, a system of transferring money over phones, is an everyday, reliable utility. Equity Bank, a fast-growing bank, most of whose customers have never had an account before, has come of age with mobile technology: