Africa’s fourth industrial revolution hinges on fast, reliable, affordable internet connectivity

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Cassava Technologies is one of many local and global companies creating infrastructure for fast, reliable, and affordable internet in the continent. The company built off the success of African mobile telecoms pioneer Econet Global, wants to increase internet access in Africa by building an expansive network of data access points around the continent.

Dubbed the “Africa Missing Network”, the project is leveraging the digital infrastructure backbone of Cassava Technologies’ subsidiaries.

“The intention is to make technology affordable and universally accessible across Africa and drive this vision of a digitally connected future that leaves no African behind,” president and CEO Hardy Pemhiwa tells Quartz.

Cassava Technologies comprises digital infrastructure and digital services brands, encompassing fiber broadband networks, data centers, renewable energy, as well as cloud and cybersecurity, fintech, and digital platforms. The businesses were originally part of Econet Global, a telecommunications group founded in 1993 by Zimbabwean Strive Masiyiwa.

Pemhiwa describes the “Africa Missing Network” as a “ubiquitous wifi network.” In 2020, Econet Global launched a network of wifi hotspots in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and Rwanda to provide people with affordable internet access as part of the project.

Quartz spoke with Pemhiwa, who was previously the group chief executive and managing director of Econet Global for six years, about Econet’s reorganization, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, subsea cables, the data storage market, Cassava Technologies’ plan to digitally transform the continent, and challenges ahead. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

​​Why did the Econet Group reorganize its entities?

We just announced a reorganization of the group in November [2021]. The businesses that form Cassava Technologies go way back to 2004.

Our (Econet’s) heritage is in telecoms.

Our very first network business was the business we have in Botswana: Mascom wireless. We went on to build networks in Zimbabwe, in Kenya, in Nigeria, in Burundi, in Lesotho. And from that heritage, we then built fiber networks, built a fintech business, built a power business.

In November last year, we decided essentially to reorganize the group and keep the telecom business as Econet Wireless.

The Econet Wireless brands from now on really just refers to our mobile networks business. And Cassava Technologies now refers to our digital infrastructure and digital services businesses.

The digital infrastructure piece is Liquid Intelligent Technologies, which is our fiber broadband networks business. But we’ve got Africa Data Centres, and we’ve got Distributed Power Technologies. Those three form our digital infrastructure business.

And then we have our digital services businesses, which are built on top of that digital infrastructure, essentially leveraging over that well-invested platform. That’s our cloud and cybersecurity business, our fintech business—Sasai—and our digital platforms business called Vaya.

The intention is to make technology affordable and universally accessible across Africa and drive this vision of a digitally connected future that leaves no African behind.

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