Tech giant Google has announced that it will invest $1 billion (Sh110 billion) in Africa's innovation journey over the next five years.
The company’s chief executive Sundar Pichai said the funds will be utilised to make technology accessible to more users in the continent.
Mr Pichai was speaking during this year’s Google4Africa event held on Wednesday virtually.
“We’ve made huge strides together over the past decade, but there’s more work to do to make the internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African,” he said.
Africa, despite commanding a market of 1.2 billion people, remains at the bottom of the global digital economy value chain due to high cost of mobile and fixed internet as expensive smartphones lockout over half of the population from web services.
Google said the investment will focus to bridge this gap by offering faster internet to more people at lower connectivity costs. A new subsea cable Equiano is planned to run through South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena and connect the continent with Europe.
This will add to the already existing 40,000-kilometre 4G and 5G subsea cable by the 2Africa consortium, that connects 19 African countries to Europe and the Middle East.
In efforts to help make smartphones more affordable to Africans, Google has partnered with Safaricom in a device financing plan to make Android devices more accessible.
The company is moving the initiative to partners like Airtel, MTN, Orange, Transsion Holdings and Vodacom to help “millions of first-time smartphone users gain access to quality, affordable Android smartphones.”
The company also announced Plus Codes on Google Maps, a free and open source addressing system to provide online addresses for millions of people without physical addresses. It is already working in the Gambia, but plans are underway to launch it in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
Through what it calls a ‘Black Founders Fund’, Google said it will invest in African-led startups by providing cash awards and hands-on support, in addition to the already existing Google for Startups Accelerator programme, which has helped “more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space and access to expert advisors over the last three years”
Nitin Gajria, Managing Director for Google in Africa said that during the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been more need for investment rounds into tech startups than ever before.
“I am of the firm belief that no one is better placed to solve Africa’s biggest problems than Africa’s young developers and startup founders. We look forward to deepening our partnership with, and support for, Africa's innovators and entrepreneurs,” he said.
Through the Africa Investment Fund, the company said it will invest Sh5 billion in startups and provide them with access to Google’s employees, network, and technologies to help them build products for their communities.
Small businesses in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa will also benefit from the company, with Sh1 billion set aside to afford them low-interest loans.
To date, Google said it has trained over 6 million people across 25 African countries, with over 60 per cent of participants experiencing growth in their business.