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Lagos — Google plans to invest $1bn in Africa over the next five years to ensure access to fast and cheaper internet and will back start-ups to support the continent’s digital transformation. 

The unit of US tech company Alphabet made the announcement on Wednesday at a virtual event at which it launched an Africa Investment Fund, through which it will invest $50m in start-ups, providing them with access to its employees, network and technologies.

Nitin Gajria, MD for Google in Africa, said that the company will target start-ups focusing on fintech, e-commerce and local language content.

“We are looking at areas that may have some strategic overlap with Google and where Google could potentially add value in partnering with some of these start-ups,” Gajria said.

In collaboration with not-for-profit organisation Kiva, Google will also provide $10m in low interest loans to help small businesses and entrepreneurs in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and SA so they can get through the economic hardship created by Covid-19.

Small businesses in Africa often struggle to get capital because they lack the necessary collateral required by banks in case they default. When credit is available, interest rates are usually too high.

Google said a programme pioneered last year in Kenya in partnership with Safaricom that allows customers to pay for 4G-enabled phones in instalments will be expanded across the continent with mobile operators such as MTN, Orange and Vodacom.

An undersea cable being built by Google to link Africa and Europe should come into service in the second half of next year and is expected to increase internet speeds by five times and lower data costs by up to 21% in countries such as SA and Nigeria, Gajria said.



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