In­ter­net so­ci­ety: no sim­ple, bi­nary an­swers for Africa’s chal­lenges

African Independent - - BUSINESS -

a dent in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa’s un­nec­es­sar­ily shock­ing road death sta­tis­tics.

Ac­cord­ing to Mwangi, to date, Akah’s so­lu­tion has been de­ployed in sev­eral ur­ban ar­eas in Cameroon, and he is cur­rently work­ing with the coun­try’s trans­port min­istry to de­ploy the so­lu­tion na­tion­wide.

Isoc re­cently re­leased a global re­port en­ti­tled “Paths to our Dig­i­tal Fu­ture”.

The doc­u­ment looks out over the next five to seven years and iden­ti­fies fac­tors that are likely to shape the fu­ture of the in­ter­net.

De­spite sport­ing a rel­a­tively op­ti­mistic out­look over­all, Isoc pub­lished a list of threats (or op­por­tu­ni­ties – de­pend­ing how you look at it) to re­al­is­ing the prom­ise of an in­ter­net “for every­one, ev­ery­where”.

Some of those items in­clude the rise of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI), im­mi­nent cy­ber se­cu­rity threats, fluid in­ter­net stan­dards, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of in­ter­net of things en­abled de­vices, the ex­pan­sion of the dig­i­tal econ­omy and the in­creas­ingly prob­lem­atic role of gov­ern­ment and big busi­ness in reg­u­lat­ing in­ter­net use.

Sev­eral weeks ago, in ref­er­enc­ing the dis­turb­ing im­pact that fake on­line news had on Kenya’s re­cently an­nulled elec­tion, I posited that as a so­ci­ety, we may well need to ac­cept the in­con­ve­nient fact that be­cause pretty much any­one in the world with in­ter­net ac­cess and web skills (how­ever mod­est or so­phis­ti­cated) now has the un­prece­dented ca­pac­ity to as­sert or pro­mote a ne­far­i­ous agenda, no one can be trusted.

When I put to Mwangi that per­haps even seem­ingly im­par­tial en­ti­ties such as Isoc – pro­po­nents of net neutrality and free, uni­ver­sal web ac­cess – shouldn’t au­to­mat­i­cally be en­ti­tled to the peo­ple’s trust, he ad­mit­ted that as the in­ter­net con­tin­ues to trans­form ev­ery sec­tor of the global econ­omy, the de­bate around dig­i­tal di­vides of the fu­ture won’t be lim­ited to mat­ters of in­ter­net ac­cess but will also per­tain to the gap be­tween the eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to some and not to oth­ers.

He also ac­knowl­edged an on­line se­cu­rity di­vide that sep­a­rates in­di­vid­u­als, cor­po­ra­tions and coun­tries who can pro­tect their dig­i­tal as­sets and those who can­not – cit­ing the prob­lem­atic trend to­wards the cre­ation of “walled gar­dens”.

How­ever, Mwangi was quick to high­light the fact that there are no sim­ple, bi­nary an­swers to how Africa and the rest of the de­vel­op­ing world can har­ness the full po­ten­tial of the in­ter­net and avoid the in­evitable in­equities that stem from the early colo­nial age from be­ing per­pet­u­ated in the dig­i­tal era.

He did em­pha­sise, though, that adopt­ing an in­su­lar, iso­la­tion­ist view is not the way to go for Africans.

Sally Went­worth, Isoc’s vi­cepres­i­dent of global pol­icy, re­cently said their re­search shows the in­ter­net’s core val­ues are still widely em­braced.

It ap­pears that at Isoc there is no short­age of rhetoric pro­mot­ing the ex­is­tence of this sub­lime imag­i­nary of the world wide web as be­ing a global, open, se­cure in­ter­net that is “used for the ben­e­fit of peo­ple ev­ery­where in the world”.

I have some dif­fi­culty ig­nor­ing the steady de­cline in in­ter­net free­dom around the world, as well as the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of sur­veil­lance, in­ter­net shut­downs and con­tent reg­u­la­tion.

Call me para­noid, but I also can’t bring my­self to trust the mo­tives of in­creas­ingly dom­i­nant commercial tech gi­ants like Face­book, Google and Ama­zon.

This state­ment by Went­worth does a good job of sum­ming up my feel­ings: “We found peo­ple share a sense of both op­ti­mism and dis­il­lu­sion­ment for the In­ter­net’s fu­ture in equal mea­sure.

“While there are no guar­an­tees of what lies ahead, we know that hu­man­ity must be at the cen­tre of to­mor­row’s In­ter­net.”

Andile Ma­suku is a broad­caster and en­tre­pre­neur based in Jo­han­nes­burg, South Africa. He is the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer at Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Ma­sukuAndile and the African Tech Round-up @african­roundup

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