Will Google Bring Africa Together or Rip Africa Apart?

Google’s sphere of influence in Africa

Recently, I read an interesting article on the Economist: Google’s Involvement in Africa.

Google in Africa truly introduces a multitude of services that have never been seen before. Gmail and Google Search, for example, have provided Africa with a burgeoning connectivity that will be a factor of efficiency and productivity. From the perspective of the individual, the article asserts that Google has given “ordinary Africans” greater accessibility to reliable services and information. The power of the Internet has the potential to bring Africa together – with more and more Africans reaching out to each other using the net, as seen in the rising number of Facebook users in parts of the continent. In some African nations we have already seen the power of the Internet in action. Early this year, social media proved as a powerful catalyst for the ousting of ex-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak – as seen the Internet can be harnessed to unite people in Africa. However, in a continent where 47% of the population lives below US$1.25 a day, as of 2012? , how much unity can the Internet bring about? Will the “ordinary” African really obtain greater accessibility to such services?

In Google’s Mission in Africa, it aims to build a self-sufficient Internet ecosystem that is vibrant and self-sustainable in the long-run, aimed at reducing access to all potential users. Yet, while Google embraces Africa with well intentions, the arrival of the American search-and-advertising colossus in Africa is a double-edged sword. Google will definitely empower a more globalized, connected and knowledgeable Africa, but it will also tear apart the omnipresent social divide to a greater extent. According to the Africa Internet Usage and Population Stats, merely 13.5% of the African population plug in to the Web. Unfortunately, this 13.5% of the population is the privileged few from a continent who have the financial capacity to afford Internet access. In fact, for the majority of Africans, Google doesn’t have a direct impact on their lives. The exclusiveness of Internet access will be a marker for the privileged few who can afford it. As such, the services of Google will polarize the social divide between the relative rich who are the minority and the relative poor who are the majority.

With time we may see a new rift valley dividing Africa – brought apart by the exclusive, privileged access to the Internet. One will be the informed, globalized, and richer population that has the accessibility to global information. The other, will be the poorer population that struggles with finding even three proper meals a day.

Will the arrival of Internet powerhouses like Google catalyse a stronger Africa, or will it further rip apart an already divided Africa? Only time will tell if Google will bring Africa closer, or rift her apart.

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