Internet access and the future of the Congo

Our Founder, Nate Houghton, is currently in Kinshasa visiting the team. He’ll be updating us periodically on his activities there.

I'm a very impatient person, as anyone who knows me well will confirm. So, while I do not tend to be bothered by having to do without most of my creature comforts while in Congo, the difficulties accessing the Internet tend to drive me up a wall. Sitting and waiting for Gmail to load while the wi-fi cuts in and out is much worse to me than any other inconvenience to which I could be subjected.

This morning, in a fit of impatient rage, I decided to learn why, exactly, the Internet is slow here in Kinshasa. I'm not a scientific person and my technical expertise is next to nil, but there were a few useful learnings I was able to pick up (my apologies to those who know far more about these matters than I do... I'm sure I'm doing an injustice to your daily work).

First, the Internet is slower here not for the reasons you might expect. It's not that the equipment I'm using is substandard, older, or poorly built. It's mostly the result of the fact that my computer is pinging servers that are located geographically far from me. When I'm in the US, these servers are typically in the same country. When I'm in Kinshasa, this isn't the case. So no matter how much we invest in hardware to improve Internet access in Congo, not much is going to improve.

Nevertheless, the quality of my connection tends to be somewhat poor (it cuts in and out) for a variety of reasons. As it turns out, though, I'm pretty lucky in that I can access the Internet at all in the Congo. Despite doubling over the past decade or so, fewer than 8% of Congolese can get online today.

That's stunning! And it's a big problem for a group like ours that wants to share leadership training and entrepreneurial opportunity with Congolese youth in every city, town, and village across the country.

There are some promising possibilities that have garnered more interest recently, and I'm interested in diving deeper into them. In fact, this could become a major area of focus for CLI in the coming years as we look for more effective ways to share our leadership training with broader and broader groups of Congolese youth. Stay tuned...

Nathaniel Houghton