A $1 billion investment by Google in Africa is rooted in the ‘spirit of Ubuntu’
Google hopes to capitalize on the Ubuntu movement in Africa with its $1 billion investment plan over five years.
Pan-Africanism was meant to be centred on the Ubuntu principle, but it has been difficult to implement because some African nations are pushing for protectionist policies even under the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (Afcfta.)
Ubuntu’s proponents, like the late South African priest Desmond Tutu, consider it as a shared global link that unites all of mankind, namely all Africans. It means “I am because we are” in Zulu.
Even in terms of technology, there is a lack of commonality, and just a few centres on the continent have made significant headway, despite several firms trying to capitalize on the ideology. Google, however, wants to alter everything. The corporation wants to employ technology to bring together all 55 nations through its $1 billion five-year investment plan. The business emphasized that Ubuntiusm may be revived during its second Google for Africa event on October 5 by giving a variety of online possibilities, providing training, and including additional African languages in its products.
“With Google Workspace for NGOs, we’re supporting more than 40,000 individuals and providing $1 million in monthly ad funding. We wish to adopt the spirit of Ubuntu as we travel this path. Managing director of Google Africa Nitin Gajria remarked during the live-streamed event, “I am because we are. Gajria stated that 5,000 more African kids would be given continuous scholarships for the Google Career Certificate with an extra $1.5 million in financing.
Increasing the cost of internet access
An underwater cable built by Google called Equiano connected Saint Helena, Togo, Nigeria, Namibia, and South Africa to Europe. It is expected to increase the internet capacity on the continent by up to 20 times and, according to Gajria, “contribute more than $17 billion in economic growth.”
According to a 2021 analysis by Africa Practice and Genesis Analytics, by 2025, the cable will increase the GDPs of Nigeria, South Africa, and Namibia by $10.1 billion, $7 billion, and $260 million, respectively. Additionally, the 3 nations’ 1.8 million new employment might be supported by the 4G cable.
With the help of Project Taara from Alphabet, nearly 17 million residents of Kinshasa and Brazzaville are now connected to high-speed internet throughout the River Congo basin. The wireless optical link used by Taara “provided approximately 700 TB of data in 20 days with 99.9% availability,” according to the company’s director of engineering. Its second moonshot initiative, Loon, had failed in Kenya and Uganda before this, though.
A new cloud centre in South Africa was launched during the event, promising to add $2.1 billion to the country’s GDP and help create more than 40,000 jobs by 2030. Director of Google Cloud Africa Niral Patel referred to it as the “cleanest cloud in the business.” Through the Equiano undersea cable, we are extending our network, and in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lagos, and Nairobi, we are constructing specific cloud connection locations, according to Patel.
The internet now supports African languages
In order to better serve Africa, Google is currently developing speech recognition algorithms, beginning with the introduction of voice typing functionality for nine more African languages on the Google keyboard, Gboard. There are nine different languages: isiNdebele, isiXhosa, Kinyarwanda, Northern Sotho, Swati, Sesotho, Tswana, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga.
Google Translate now supports “at least 24 new African languages,” the company reported. Gboard already supports 200 African languages, but there is still a long way to go, given that the continent is home to over 2,000 native tongues and that only 1% of them are used online.
According to Agnes Gathaiya, the national director for Google in east Africa, a new feature would let African app developers utilize any of the 200 languages.
“When you speak to someone in a language they can comprehend, that affects them. They respond more positively to communication in their own tongue, according to Gathaiya. She acknowledged that the entire set of letters and accent marks used by African languages that employ the Latin writing system have long lacked technological support, but Google has enlarged their Questrial typeface to incorporate a newly defined set of African-Latin glyphs. Now, text on electronic devices may be correctly spelt.
In addition, Google has added “almost 3,000 kilometres of imagery” to its Street View feature in Kenya, South Africa, Senegal, and Nigeria to allow users visually explore and navigate areas on Google Maps. However, only 11 African nations now have access to Street View.
According to James Manyika, senior vice president for technology and society at Google, the two organizations are collaborating with the African Union to restore its technological cohesion across its 55 member states. These alliances are crucial to the future we can create together. One in which technology encourages creativity, entrepreneurship, and the talent driving Africa’s digital development. In Nairobi, Google has launched a brand-new talent development facility.
Keeping African culture alive
The business is taking action to support the best musicians, chefs, fashion designers, artists, and athletes in Africa. In addition, art is being digitally preserved. “In conjunction with seven cultural institutions, we created Eko for Show on Google Arts and Culture. For instance, Mali Magic illuminates epic tales in digital music and narrative collection to study the Mali culture, according to Ola Fadipe, senior director of people operations at Google.
Google helps small African companies via the Hustle Academy and Google Business Profiles to assist African entrepreneurs in growing and developing their expertise, and it also offers Developer Scholarships and Career Certifications to job seekers to help them acquire the necessary skills. In order to aid young people in developing their professions and learning new skills, 7,500 career scholarships were given out in the previous year. On the web, Google Cloud, and Android technologies, more than 105,000 African developers have received training.
SafeBoda, a mobile gaming firm in South Africa, Carry1st, and Lori Systems, an e-logistics startup in Kenya, have each received a portion of its $50 million Africa Investment Fund. SafeBoda is an e-transport startup with operations in Uganda and Nigeria. Awarded recognition for attaining gender balance is its Black Founders Fund.
The challenge ahead
The goal of Google’s concept of Ubuntu is to make technology commonplace in every African country, yet 44 of the continent’s countries have yet to use services like Street View, and upgrades to Google Maps for the continent’s road networks can take years rather than months. Despite the fact that 58% of Africans reside in rural regions, Google Maps’ coverage of rural Africa has room for improvement. As a result, companies that depend on Maps for their operations, such as taxi-hailing services and e-logistics startups, can only reach metropolitan areas.
Smartphone adoption is low, average internet costs are high, and different nations’ internet infrastructure development levels make it difficult for Google to deliver on its delivery promise. While some countries are testing 5G, many others still rely largely on older internet infrastructure. However, its “Ubuntu” initiatives have considerable commercial merit.
With 19 of the world’s 20 fastest developing economies located on the continent, the internet economy in Africa is predicted to reach $180 billion by 2025, or 5.2% of the region’s GDP. By 2050, Africa will have a quarter of the world’s population, and almost 60% of the continent’s population will be under 25. Millions of Africans may one day be able to do business online, view HD films on YouTube, look up rural directions on Maps and search “Google” in their native tongues thanks to Google’s initiatives.
Edited by Prakriti Arora