Africa has made great strides over the years in getting connected to the Internet. The continent now has 453,329,534 Internet users, which translates to an Internet penetration of 32.5%.

This statistic is steadily growing, and we are steadily shaking off the tag of the dark continent. However, the question needs to be asked; where is Africa’s data stored and processed?

Data sovereignty

Many websites registered under Africa’s ccTLD, that is names like .ke, .ng, .tz, .za etc, are hosted in Europe and America. This is besides a similar number of other gTLD domains such as .com and .net, which are owned by Africans, but hosted abroad too.

This means that many of the websites that are owned and accessed by Africans, are actually located in other continents.

One can see why most of these websites are located outside of Africa. As of December 2018, the USA accounted for 40% of all data centers in the world. Africa does not rank here, and one can conclude that the number of data center is way much smaller compared to other continents. This is why many African websites will continue to be hosted in other continents.

The cost of hosting also plays a major role with collocation in African Data Centers costing more than double the cost in the US and Europe.

The problem

Does this pose a problem?

Yes, this is a big problem. The two main problems include capital flight and latency.

Africans end up spending billions of their hard-earned money on hosting their data outside the continent, money which could impact the economy if injected into the various respective countries. It has been reported that Nigerians alone spend about $60 million on paying for web hosting which is based outside of Nigeria and Africa. Other African countries follow a similar trend, and the money that could be building data centers in Africa, improving terrestrial fiber networks or even building local companies, is being pumped into developed countries.

The second problem involves latency. Although connectivity in Africa has greatly improved with several submarine fiber cables going around Africa and a vast network of terrestrial fiber, one of the main bottlenecks that impact user experience is latency.

Latency refers to the time it takes for data to be transferred from the server to the user, and this time is quite high due to a physical distance between users in Africa, and servers in other continents. This is because it takes about 60 times longer to access data from Europe, than it takes when data is locally hosted. If you are in Kenya, you can test this by accessing the eCitizen website which is hosted locally, compared to any other website that is hosted abroad.

Of course, a difference of less than a second does not hurt anyone, many think. However, this is not true.

A lot of man-hours are wasted while people wait for pages to load. Money is spent on leasing international links to deliver this data, and once the world makes the leap to 5G where bandwidth will not be the limit, latency will be the bottleneck.

We must reverse this now.

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