There’s been a lot of debate about Google’s mission and motive in Africa over the past few years. We, at Techloy have even criticised some of the company’s projects in the past, while also secretly applauding some that we think would be greatly beneficial to the region.
When Google came into Africa, we expected the company to make investments in power, broadband, alternative energy, engineering, payments, etc, which are the real issues that were (still are) a big challenge to the region.
It was a shame to see Google fighting for dominance in web businesses such as classified ads, business listings, etc that were already available from local entrepreneurs. Google — in all its might, power, and glory — could do better than that.
As we continued to follow Google’s initiatives in Africa, we can now say that the company has finally grown up. Within the past year, the company has introduced more responsible initiatives and projects for the region that could significantly solve Africa’s problems, especially in the areas of Internet access, funding, technology know-how, power, and infrastructure.
Here are our editor’s picks of Google’s most significant initiatives and projects for the African continent in 2013.
In May, Google announced it had closed a $12 million USD investment in the Jasper Power Project, a 96-megawatt solar photovoltaic plant in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Upon completion, the project is expected to be one of the largest solar installations on the continent, capable of generating enough electricity to power 30,000 South African homes. The project developed and funded by SolarReserve, Intikon Energy, and the Kensani Group, is also backed by Rand Merchant Bank, the Public Investment Corporation, Development Bank of South Africa, and the PEACE Humansrus Trust.
TV White Spaces
Google demonstrated that broadband can be offered over white spaces without interfering with licensed spectrum holders. The company embarked on a TV White Space trial service which was broadcast from three base stations located at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in Tygerberg, Cape Town. During the trial, ten schools in the Cape Town area received wireless broadband to test the technology.
Google made, arguably, its biggest move yet in Africa with the launch of Project Link, its fibre-optic backbone infrastructure to turbo-charge broadband access in the region.
Google Science Fair 2013
Google’s 2013 Google Science Fair attracted an exciting and diverse rank of entries, with thousands of submissions from more than 120 countries including Africa. In 2013, the African finalists were South African scientist, Samantha Hayward who explored the advantages and disadvantages of Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation, and Kenya ‘Scientists in progress’ team (Himanshi Sehgal, Souparni Roy, Richa, and Nagda) whose project was based on Producing electricity using heat and tomatoes.
The Next Billion
In order to help bring the next billion people online, Google.org announced its support of the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) and the Internet Society (ISOC), thus providing $3.1 million to the NSRC to grow their work to bring local network engineering expertise to universities and national research & education networks (NRENs) across Sub-Saharan Africa.
The company also supported ISOC with $1.3 million to improve and create Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) in emerging markets, which play a big role in core Internet infrastructure, allowing Internet Service Providers to peer locally (and cheaply), thus lowering end-user costs, promoting competition, and improving user experience.
In its quest to create comprehensive, accurate, and easy-to-use Google Maps in Africa which started about four years ago, Google maps have evolved to include local domains, driving and walking directions, traffic information, Street View imagery in South Africa and Botswana, and turn by turn GPS navigation in South Africa, Algeria, and Tunisia. In Nigeria, the company added more than 12,000 locations such as bank branches, ATMs, POS outlets, eateries, telcos service centres, and petrol stations on Google Maps and Google Maps for Mobile.
Google embarked on the largest expansion into African languages to date, adding 5 new languages — Hausa, Igbo, Somali, Yoruba, and Zulu — with over 100 million native speakers put together to its web translation service, Google Translate.
Google teamed up with Equity Bank, the largest bank in East Africa, to launch BebaPay, a payment card that makes it easier and more convenient to pay for bus travel in Kenya. With BebaPay, people traveling on key Nairobi bus routes such as Riruta, Karen, and Jogoo Road will be able to pre-load money onto their BebaPay card (available for free) and swipe or tap it on the card reader when boarding a bus to pay for their journey. It is expected that Google would replicate this model in other parts of Africa in the future.
Maps Navigation (Beta) for Mobile
Google made its Maps navigation features like voice-guided and turn-by-turn navigation available in Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, and Ivory Coast for mobile devices. The feature includes everything you’d expect from a GPS navigation system and even more. Google Maps Navigation (Beta) requires no downloads or updates and is accessible to any smartphone user running Android 2.2+ or iOS 5.1+.
YouTube Content Creator
Google announced the expansion of the YouTube Partner Programme to Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda, which is designed to help content creators earn money from their videos by allowing ads to run alongside individual videos, on the largest video sharing site in the world.
RISE Award 2014
Through the RISE Award, Google wants to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers out of Africa. Given once a year, the Google RISE (Roots in Science and Engineering) Awards are designed to promote and support education initiatives to increase engagement in science and technology, especially computer science.
Did you know that Africa has the youngest set of constitutions, with 19 out of the 39 constitutions written globally since 2000 from the region – and the most recent being from Zimbabwe? Such information is what Constitute, a Google Ideas/Comparative Constitutions Project supported platform helps organize and makes searchable. The new site digitizes and makes searchable the world’s constitutions and enables people to browse and search constitutions via curated and tagged topics, as well as by country and year.
Google Drive in African Languages
Google included Afrikaans, Amharic, Swahili, and Zulu languages to Drive, its file storing tool that lets you store and access your files anywhere – on the web, on your hard drive, on your phone, or on the go. So if you’re presenting a document to Swahili speakers in Kenya or negotiating a contract with Zulu speakers in South Africa, Google Drive now speaks your language.
Of course, there were other Google initiatives in 2013 for Africa that impressed us such as the TabletCafe in Senegal, the partnership with M:Lab to introduce a new source of data on Internet quality, and the new initiative called Africa Connected that allows you to tell your web success story.
Which Africa-focused initiatives were you most impressed with about Google in 2013? What should Google do for Africa in 2014?