African governments should rely on the internet more
If governments valued and used the internet in the services they offer, they would focus on building an enabling and competitive environment for the digital market and respect digital rights and online rights. Speaking at the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the organisations executive director, Dr Wairagala Wakabi, said that African leaders should consider the impact and opportunities presented by the internet.
These include but not limited to, new employment and business opportunities, an inclusive, competitive and strong digital economy which can compete with international markets, public digital services and free citizens who can freely use the internet to exercise their rights such as freedom of expression. Wakabi further said that just about 20% of the African population uses the internet and this is an increase in both usage and access.
Cipesa recently hosted its annual Forum on Internet Freedom Africa (#FIFAfrica) in Ethiopia where some key issues on internet freedom and digital rights were raised. Wakabi was speaking on a panel about the importance of accepting that internet penetration and access is increasing across the continent and governments must expand and take advantage of this phenomenon. The panel also included Dr Getahun Mekuria, Ethiopia’s Minister of Innovation and Technology, Anriette Esterhusyen from the Association of Progressive Communications (APC), and Prof Peter Fussey from the University of Essex.
If African governments relied on the internet for government services such as government websites, the economy, government services and more they would understand the value and importance of the internet in today’s society, perhaps then we would have less than 22 internet shutdowns in a year. This was a suggestion brought up during this panel discussion.
CIPESA’s latest State of internet freedom in Africa report states that the period between 2016–2019 was the “golden era” of internet shutdowns. During this period, nearly half of the countries in Africa (at least 22 of them, including the host country, Ethiopia) experienced a government-ordered network disruption, with popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter being the main target. Some countries also ordered blockages of SMS, or of the entire internet. In Uganda’s case, mobile money services. Within the first three weeks of 2019, network disruptions had been registered in five countries (Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
The conference showed testament that as internet penetration rises in Africa, stakeholders, policymakers, internet advocates and civil society organisations continue to fight for better internet governance and for the protection of online human rights and online. The conference covered digital rights, digital security, policy matters, access, affordability, free expression and non-discrimination, and the free flow of digital information on the continent.