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Google backs digital interest in Africa with US$1bn investment

Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Google has announced it will invest US$1-billion over a period of five years to support digital transformation in Africa.

During the first Google for Africa event hosted virtually this week, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet said the investment will include the landing of the subsea cable Equiano which the company believes will enable faster internet speeds and lower connectivity costs.

Against this backdrop, the financial boost is expected to support Equiano which will run through South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena and connect the continent with Europe.

Pichai added that the investment also includes low-interest loans to help small businesses and equity investments in African start-ups.

Google added it will utilise a Black Founders Fund to invest in black-led start-ups in Africa “by providing cash awards and hands-on support.”

Google also released details of an Africa Investment Fund. Through this fund, the company will invest US$50-million in start-ups and provide them with access to Google’s employees, network, and technologies to help them build meaningful products for their communities.

The company added: “In collaboration with the non-profit organisation Kiva, Google is providing $10M in low-interest loans to help small businesses and entrepreneurs in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa get through the economic hardship created by COVID-19. Google.org is expanding its commitment to support non-profits working to improve lives across Africa, with $40M to help more partners who are responding to challenges they see first-hand in their communities - innovators like the Airqo team at Makerere University, who use AI and sensors to monitor poor air quality, a leading cause of premature death. Google is providing $3M in new grant funding to expand this pioneering work from Kampala across 10 cities in 5 countries on the continent.”

Pichai said: “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.”

Nitin Gajria, Managing Director for Google in Africa added: “I am so inspired by the innovative African tech start-up scene. In the last year we have seen more investment rounds into tech start-ups 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 start-up founders. We look forward to deepening our partnership with, and support for, Africa's innovators and entrepreneurs.”

South Africa’s Minister of Small Business Development Stella Tembisa Ndabeni-Abrahams said: “I am happy to note that Google has been active in supporting Small to Medium Enterprises, dedicating even more resources to this sector, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last 12 months, Google has helped close to 500,000 African businesses get online and reach new customers.”

Device financing

Google believes internet access is also hampered by the affordability of smartphones. Android has developed a device locking technology as part of the Android platform that will enable partners to offer financed devices. 

To this end, Google also announced collaboration with Safaricom in Kenya to launch what the companies describe as the first “device financing” plan in the East African country.

The plan is to expand the initiative across Africa through partnerships with Airtel, MKOPA, MTN, Orange, Transsion Holdings and Vodacom.

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