Report claims African governments stifling Internet expansion
A Report has blamed the slow pace of Internet growth in Africa on some activities embarked upon by the various governments.
This was contained in the first edition of a report released by Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), a social enterprise that connects under-served Nigerian youth with ICT-enabled opportunities.
The report, with focus on digital rights in Africa, titled: “Choking The Pipe: How Governments Hurt Internet Freedom On A Continent That Needs More Access,” identified among others, some policy inconsistencies that had impacted on Internet growth in the region.
The report was released at the recently concluded Internet Governance Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico, and copies made available to journalists in Lagos. It builds on PIN’s earlier work that profiled each year over the last two years, the status of digital rights in Nigeria, and features information about the status of digital rights in 30 African countries.
These included five countries in Central Africa (Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo and Gabon); seven East African countries (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda).
Others were four countries in North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia); nine West African countries (Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone); and five countries in Southern Africa (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe).
PIN’s Programme Assistant, in charge of ICT Policy, Tomiwa Ilori, also a Digital Rights in Africa report team member, observed that 2016 had shaped up to be the year of Internet shutdowns in Africa, with numerous documented cases recorded across the continent.
Internet shutdowns estimated to have cost countries about $2.4 billion last year is censorship and denial of access to the Internet, which is seen as a threat and violation of the right to information and communication.
Ilori said this was in addition to an increasing number of legislations and policies that violate digital rights; and arrests of numerous bloggers, journalists and citizens who exercised their right to freedom of opinion and expression online.
He added that “a common trend for Internet shutdowns across the continent has been government orders to private telecommunications and Internet companies to cut off citizens from the Internet, and this shows that private businesses, including global businesses working in countries where they respect citizen rights – still act, in many cases, at the behest of governments across Africa.”
Another member of the PIN Digital Rights in Africa report team, Babatunde Okunoye, said: “2016, however, was not just about African governments’ actions to constrain Internet freedom. It was also very much about how citizens fought back and stood up to defend their rights. In response to the spate of Internet surveillance and shutdowns across the continent, citizens across African countries increasingly took up the use of circumvention tools and led efforts that challenged the action of their governments.”
A Google Policy Fellow resident at PIN, and member of the Digital Rights in Africa report team, Oluwaseun Ajayi, said the report observed the importance of citizen vigilance and lawful action against the constraining of Internet freedom across the continent.
According to her, the methodology employed in preparing this report involved desk research and a survey conducted among experts resident in the featured African countries. We hope that the report will spur action among an increasing number of active citizens, noting that we are responsible for upholding and defending human rights and dignity in cyberspace.
Executive Director, PIN, Gbenga Sesan, said: “We create awareness on the threat to Internet freedom and provide information on what can be done to improve digital rights across African countries. PIN leads advocacy efforts for digital rights of citizens and other stakeholders; complete digital rights training for media, advocates and civil society organisations; host the annual Internet Freedom Forum where various stakeholders discuss prevailing issues. We also produce this annual report that highlights incidents and discusses digital rights challenges and opportunities across the continent.”
Sesan believed that active citizens and civil society constrain the tendency of those who abuse positions of authority to perpetuate digital rights violations.
“With at least 10 countries imposing Internet or Internet application shutdowns, unfortunately, Africa was the hotbed for violations to digital rights. Africa is already behind on many development indices but the Internet presents perhaps a chance to bridge many of those gaps through the access it grants to life-changing information, communications, education, opportunities and its role in the development of the political space,” Sesan said.