The Internet of Things: What Interest for Africa?
Coconuts are quite uplifting by their shape. Indeed, once the upper layers are removed with more or less difficulty, we can finally enjoy the fruits of the battle. The Internet is much the same thing, once we have managed to tame it, it can deliver all its wonders. One of them is what is now called “the Internet of Things”. The Internet of Things is the set of services around physical materials connected to the web. Why Africa should be interested in the Internet of Things at a time when water and electricity supplies are still problematic to say the least. According to Cisco, Africa has 500 billion good reasons to address the issue in the next 10 years. Many possibilities are now offered by the Internet of Things, some of which will allow the continent to accelerate its socio-economic development. It would, for example, be inappropriate to confront poachers with connected watches such as the smartwatch but with connected localization devices implemented on rare species, it would be easier to combat poaching on a large scale. With drones, poachers’ homes would be spotted before they even realize it. According to the latest report published by DHL and Cisco on Internet of Things (IoT) trends, the global market is estimated at $ 1.9 billion in terms of opportunities. The report estimates that 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, up from 15 billion today. The whole worth $ 8 trillion. A market in which African countries could position themselves as actors.
Africa is today at the heart of conflicts of interest, be they economic, geopolitical and even technological. The Internet of Things as an emerging trend could become a niche among many such as agriculture or renewable energy on which Africa will rely in order to gain power on the balance of international trade. In sub-Saharan Africa, the market is relatively virgin, and the costs of producing the same product or service are often 10 times lower than those practiced in OECD countries. African entrepreneurs should address the issue and create projects across the continent to do so. The conceivable applications for the Internet of Things are literally endless. Indeed, it only takes a touch of creativity to imagine new solutions.
In Africa, only MTN (South Africa) has a platform dedicated to the Internet of Things. The boiling around the Internet of Things is such that American groups like Microsoft and Google have decided to create developer programs entirely devoted to this movement. With connected microprocessors it is now possible to monitor the heart rate of patients to detect hypertension problems. In England, drones are used as medical support to cover large distances in a short time and to provide first aid to the wounded. In the African context where there are sometimes 2 doctors per 10 000 inhabitants according to the WHO against 32 per 10 000 in Europe, this solution could constitute an opportunity to explore. In Spain, travel agencies use drones to produce original images of Barcelona and thus promote local tourism. In Gabon, the Internet of Things has proven itself in the construction of infrastructure and has made it possible to carry out mapping. Indeed, the Perenco company used drones in Gabon to map the oil zones. Drones are used everywhere else for topographic measurements and risk assessment during the construction of infrastructure. Few African companies are in this segment, which creates dependence on foreign service providers and therefore a problem of state sovereignty. McKinsey estimates that Internet of Things applications will have an impact on the world economy of around 3.9 to 11 trillion per year from 2025. At its peak, this influence would represent 11% of the global economy . Africa must take advantage of this new market, instead of positioning itself as a consumer; technology is no longer a constraint, especially in the digital field.
The Internet of Things, however, poses a serious threat in terms of cyber security. Most of the connected devices are designed to be easily deployed and accessible by users who are certainly tech-savvy but little informed about the risks involved. Locks connected to mobile applications are already deployed to simplify access to the home. However, no details are given on the risks involved if a malicious hacker attacks the system and enters a private residence. Manufacturers of lightweight connected equipment aim to make a profit with economies of scale. In this momentum, they reduce research and development costs as much as possible. To extrapolate once the connection has been established between device “A” and “Internet”, the equipment is put on the market. The same passwords and usernames are replicated to the chain, so at some point they become known to hackers. The issue of security and flaws becomes incidental where it should be a priority.
Connected cameras are so insecure in the world that there is a search engine that can find millions of connected cameras in organizations, both private and public, at the blink of an eye. Websites are already sharing images from private home cameras in real time with impunity. Drones, although they can reduce the costs of mapping, can also be misused by malicious people to prepare for dangerous operations or even fly over sensitive airspace without prior authorization. This flaw also offers an opportunity for entrepreneurs in the ICT sector, who could focus on the development of security procedures. Also, it becomes imperative for African countries to consider legislation on the Internet of Things to protect their population from the excesses that this phenomenon may introduce, even if Africa is not yet a big consumer. Africa must not become a technological trend sponge. Big Data and the Internet of Things are certainly significant advances that can contribute to the development of the continent, but both, without cybersecurity measures, will only expose increasing threats to both data and the lives of users. Innovation must adapt to the context in which it wishes to flourish. Africa is a land reddened by the climate and the blood of over-exploited children in the Coltan mines in the Congo in the name of technological progress in foreign countries, the Internet of Things could change the game and return Africa to Africans.
In sum, the entire Internet of Things appears to be one avenue among many to bridge the technological but also economic gap between Africa and the so-called developed countries. Over the years, African countries have started to adopt innovative technologies and movements deployed around the world in real time. We’re talking about FabLab in Togo, DIY (Do it yourself) in Senegal, Big Data in Kenya and now the Internet of Things in South Africa. That said, these trends must be contextualized and take into account the local realities specific to each African country. The challenge of the Internet of Things in Africa, as elsewhere, is therefore no longer that of its usefulness but of the security of the data it exploits. The constant flow of innovations from the African continent heralds an optimistic future for ICT. Before long, perhaps we will see the African sky covered with drones “Made in Africa”.