The arrival of Starlink in Africa has been widely welcomed as a potential game-changer for internet connectivity. Many parts of the continent, still lack internet infrastructure and reliable internet connectivity. So the introduction of satellite internet is considered a valuable tool in reducing the digital divide and reaching regions beyond the range of fibre optics. 

When Starlink launched in Nigeria in January, we discussed how the next-gen satellite internet service provider could herald a new era of fast internet in Africa’s most populous nation. Although some reports of poor performance have been reported in Nigeria, raising concerns about its reliability, it is worth noting that its introduction has enhanced internet accessibility for some people in the country. 

In addition to Nigeria, Elon Musk’s global satellite internet service has already connected to Mozambique, Rwanda, and Mauritius, with 19 more African countries scheduled for launch in 2023 and 2024. However, it is surprising that South Africa, the continent’s largest internet-consuming nation, is not among them.

According to Starlink’s availability map, several of South Africa’s neighbours will get Starlink either this year or next, as well as the other regions of the continent. The map shows that the service in African countries like Zambia, Angola, and Kenya is scheduled for a Q2 2023 launch. Sixteen countries, including Uganda, Tunisia, Ghana, and Egypt, are scheduled for a 2024 release.

The fact that South Africa, a technologically advanced country and a hub for top investment tech startups, is not included in the list of countries set to receive Elon Musk’s global satellite internet service, is a cause for concern. While there may be several factors at play, regulatory policies and restrictions are suspected to be at the fore of this technological exemption. 

Earlier this month, the Democratic Alliance claimed that the South African government was blocking Starlink’s entry into the country with its harsh telecommunications guidelines. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) requires all companies that apply for IECS and IECNS licenses to have 30% of their equity held by “historically-disadvantaged groups.”

This means, Starlink is required to meet the equity ownership clause to obtain the IECS and IECNS licenses and launch in South Africa. However, ICASA has denied blocking Elon Musk’s Starlink. The agency raised a counter-argument that it had met with Starlink twice but was yet to receive an official license. 

Starlink’s exemption from South Africa due to regulatory compliance could pose a significant challenge for investors as it requires relinquishing a large portion of their ownership in exchange for providing services in the country. 

Notably, this policy issue is not unique to South Africa. Kenya had a similar tech policy  Only companies with at least 30% substantive Kenyan ownership, either corporate or individual, were to be licensed to provide ICT services. While this policy was to encourage more Kenyans to participate in the country’s ICT sector through equity participation, it creates an avenue for downsides like investors’ flight and fright. 

The latter must have been why the Kenyan government relinquished the policy earlier this month. It was reported that e-commerce giant Amazon convinced the Kenyan government to abandon the foreign ownership rules to establish a presence in Nairobi.

While South Africa is doing considerably well with internet penetration, there are still milestones to reach, and Starlink has the potential to help this growth.  

One of the most significant impacts of Starlink’s absence in South Africa is the continued digital divide. The launch of satellite internet through Starlink could help bridge this divide by providing access to high-speed internet in areas where traditional infrastructure is inadequate.

In a world that is increasingly connected through technology, access to high-speed internet is essential for development in the coming years. Starlink could help spur entrepreneurship and innovation in the country by providing high-speed internet. This could lead to the development of new businesses and industries, creating jobs and boosting the economy. Already, South Africa belongs to the top four African countries that receive the most funding in the tech ecosystem. The country could be more with adequate infrastructure.

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