“… The continent of Africa has been so fucked over from an economic standpoint—as an engineer, how do I use my skills to do something that’s transformative?”  So asked Paul English, the co-founder of travel search engine Kayak.com, who is embarking on a project to blanket all of Africa with free and low-cost WiFi.

The project, called JoinAfrica, would provide residents with free basic Web service, including access to email, Google, Wikipedia, and various news sources. Downloads of data-rich video, porn, or other non-essential sites would be limited (similar to what libraries in the U.S. do now), via a process called “bandwidth shaping.”

Turns out English has helped hook up villages in a number of African countries over the past decade, from Burundi to Uganda and Malawi to Zambia. It’s time, he says, to raise it up a couple of notches. For more, read his interview about the project with Fast Company here.

Now, obviously, this has the potential to significantly increase internet penetration on the continent, which is a good thing, or rather, it’s not a bad thing. And, well, I’ll take it over AMREF’s Facebook Status for Africa campaign any day. But (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), as I tend to give all such projects the side eye, I have to pause.

Mostly, I’m a bit confused about drawing the line at “non-essential sites” (how is that even defined?). Is it me, or does it sometimes seem like all technology and/or internet-related projects in and on Africa have to serve some grand purpose? Maybe people across Africa also want to watch silly videos of cats on YouTube like, seemingly, all Americans do. Maybe not, but you know what I mean. Maybe they’d like to blog or listen to music or, you know, update their own Facebook statuses. The internet is supposed to be fun too, isn’t it? Does it really always have to be about saving Africa? But, hey, don’t listen to me—Ory Okolloh actually knows what she’s talking about:

[vodpod id=Video.3609123&w=360&h=138&fv=config_settings_displayMode%3Daudio%26amp%3Bconfig_settings_language%3Den%26amp%3Bconfig_settings_showPopoutButton%3Dtrue%26amp%3Bplaylist%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww%252Ebbc%252Eco%252Euk%252Fworldservice%252Fmeta%252Fdps%252F2010%252F03%252Femp%252F100311%255Fkevinblogger%252Eemp%252Exml%26amp%3Bconfig_settings_showFooter%3Dtrue%26amp%3B]

But, of course, it’s free. Although, what, as Kennedy Kachwanya asks, does free mean for entrepreneurship and innovation in Africa?

Africa is a Country readers, what are your thoughts?

Further Reading

On Safari

We are on our annual publishing break until August 28th. Please check our Twitter and Facebook pages for posts and updates until then.

A private city

Eko Atlantic in Lagos, like Tatu City in Nairobi, Kenya; Hope City in Accra, Ghana; and Cité le Fleuve in Kinshasa, DRC, point to the rise of private cities. What does it mean for the rest of us?

What she wore

The exhibition, ‘Men Lebsa Neber,’ features a staggering collection of the clothes and stories of rape survivors across Ethiopia.