Technology – specifically ICT – has played a central role in young people’s rise to prominence on a global scale. It has helped them mobilise, collaborate and given them a voice where there was none before. It has brought them together in response to social concerns. It has connected them across vast geo-political barriers.

The International Telecommunication Unit (ITU) and Broadband Commission research has shown the benefits of ICT access across all major sectors. For young people, access to information means better access to capital, markets and training needed to pursue a career or studies; increased participation in political processes, and recognition of youth as responsible citizens in today’s society. Youth entrepreneurship – which is facilitated by access to technology, the internet and information – is fast being positioned as a solution for youth unemployment.

Currently, Africa has been noted for making great strides towards becoming more Internet-friendly. To understand Africa’s digital opportunity, one only has to look at the numbers: Africa is the second-biggest mobile market in the world — smartphones outsell computers four to one. In February 2012, Facebook had a user growth rate of 165% in Africa, according to the blog ICTworks. But while the continent covers 6 percent of the earth’s total surface area and 20 percent of the total land area, it still represents only 7 percent of the globe’s total Internet users. Additionally, Internet penetration in sub-Saharan Africa remains very low and statistics show that the number of Internet users per hundred inhabitants remains low for all countries in sub-Saharan Africa. With this rate of Internet use, it will be difficult to create a genuine information society or to use ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) as a tool for economic and social development.

The rate of Internet use remains low in sub-Saharan Africa compared to the rest of the world; and the gap widens as one moves down the rankings. Thus the ratio for the Seychelles (the top of the Internet use ranking for the sub- Saharan African countries) is about 43 per cent of that of the Falkland Islands (which leads the rest of the world in that respect). However, the ratio for Zimbabwe (tenth in sub- Saharan Africa) is only 14 per cent that of Switzerland (tenth in the world).

Internet use in a country depends on the will of the public authorities to provide citizens with the means to connect to the Internet for their economic and social development. That will is reflected in the establishment of legal and regulatory conditions that promote competition in the provision of services, the adoption of the economic and fiscal measures needed to facilitate access to services, and the implementation of programmes and projects to achieve rapid development of basic infrastructure. It is noteworthy that many countries in Africa are still struggling with the provision of adequate infrastructure to support Internet usage

States decree policies in the field of IcT through sector- based statements of policy. These statements embody their vision for the IcT sector and take the form of strategies and plans of action for the sector. As a result, states are major “centre stage” players, as their policy statements in the ICT sector constitute the framework for developments in the industry. The use of the Internet has increasingly become a security policy issue for some regimes in Africa, with Ethiopia especially being of note for a crippling approach towards managing the Internet and mobile telephony.

The telecommunications sector in sub-Saharan Africa has undergone profound changes during the past decade, with the opening of the sector to competition, the creation of national regulatory authorities, the privatisation of incumbent operators and the emergence of the first private operators. These reforms have led to strong growth in the sector in the region, with a boom in mobile telephony. however, the other telecommunication market segments – the wired network and the Internet – are not experiencing anything like the success of the mobile phone sector, and the wired network is underdeveloped in nearly all countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the next few weeks, the thematic section will expand with the addition of information about the latest news and innovations taken by civil society, government, and grass-roots level activists in these sectors. Simply, our goal for this section is to ask ourselves: What is happening with youth iniatives in Africa and what innovations can we learn from? But, we need your help to make that a reality. If you come across some interesting news and information about health, employment, education, and access to technology and capital, please send an email here and we will get back to you.

The dream behind the AwW online platform can only truly work if we all contribute and share the knowledge we are exposed to.

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