In response to the killing of George Floyd by a white policeman in the US, technology’s biggest companies and their leaders made public statements expressing solidarity with Black communities. Some promised to address challenges faced by black communities and people in the African continent. Some went further by committing to support black communities with tangible interventions. In 2020 Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, announced that Google would invest $1 billion in Africa over the next five years to support a range of initiatives, from improved connectivity to investment in startups, to help boost Africa’s digital transformation.
Last week Google delivered on some of these promises by announcing its intent to establish a Google Cloud region in South Africa – its first on the continent. South Africa will be joining Google Cloud’s global network of 35 cloud regions and 106 zones worldwide.
Beyond the cloud Google also their efforts in addressing the African language challenge on the internet. Google has expanded its voice dictation feature for Translate to support isiXhosa and other African languages in Gboard. The Gboard keyboard app supports integration on various Android, iOS, and iPadOS apps on smartphones and tablets. Its dictation feature listens to a user’s voice through the device’s microphone and automatically converts it into text that can be placed within an email, text message, or other areas of apps that allow for text input.
Google continues to support African entrepreneurs with business tools aimed at advancing their businesses. For the first time in Google’s history of supporting the African continent, its efforts are now showing a genuine desire to make a difference. The decision by Google to establish its Cloud infrastructure in Africa is a big deal. This will address a situation where all the African data on Google is stored in the US. This move by Google is a positive development for the African continent. The storage of African data in the US has always been seen as a contentious issue. The announcement on languages is also another action worthy of celebration by the African continent. African languages are under siege. The internet has just worsened the demise of African languages online by enabling the domination of the English language. Beyond just text usage on the internet with the adoption of artificial intelligence, voice has become an important tool to interact with digital objects. Currently, interaction with digital objects has been mainly through English. Google is now making it possible for Africans to speak their languages with digital objects and get desired results. For now, the technology is not 100% and according to Google, it will improve over time. In addition to these efforts, Google is also in the process of improving the quality of the internet in the continent through the Equiano undersea cable. According to research commissioned by Google, Equiano cable will improve median download speeds in Nigeria by up to six times, reduce retail data prices by 21%, and create economic activity that will indirectly result in $10 billion added to the Nigerian GDP and 1.6 million new jobs. It is in this area where Africans should be concerned. While progress has to be welcomed, the undersea cable by Google and other companies such as Meta ought to be welcomed with open eyes. The undersea cable will also place an unprecedented level of control in the hands of the U.S.-based tech giants. In the long run, this is not ideal for the African continent. The technology infrastructure through which the African continent accesses the continent should not be controlled by a multinational company of another country.