Africa and the Internet: a 21st century human rights issue?
African leaders could allow freedom of expression, or they could mimic the Chinese model of building a 'Great Firewall of China' to shut down Internet systems that allow critical thinking.
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First, the telecom industry is one of the leaders in tax revenues in Uganda and provides a lot of jobs for the Ugandan youth in a country where the number of unemployed graduates has become worrying. In the face of such a directive companies had a lot at stake, most telecoms provide Internet and they feared a backlash. This directive was leaked to the press by people in the telecoms who were concerned that they would be the first victims of the backlash. So in the end the government didn’t achieve its mission. President Yoweri Museveni cannot choose to get the taxes from the telecoms, which help him run the country and at the same time easily pass directives to control information.Skip to next paragraph
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Clay Shirky, adjunct professor at New York University graduate program on Interactive Telecommunications said no other invention has ever threatened the Westphalian nation-state like the Internet has done. The states in the past were able to effectively control radio, newspapers, and TV, but the Internet is a challenge.
“This is a cultural and political choice," Shirky said. "Protecting freedom of speech is a governance challenge. Westphalia, where government controls everything, survived the 20th Century media innovations, we are going to see if they can survive the internet.”
Only 10 percent of Ugandans access the Internet, yet about 10 million of the 33 million Ugandans have mobile phones. The use of Internet is partly hampered by illiteracy levels as well as cost, but Uganda has a youthful population which will take up new information systems even with just post primary education.
There are real infrastructure problems hindering access to Internet in Africa but we are seeing more investment. According to ComputerWorld, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi have linked forces together on a $400 million investment in terrestrial fiber optic cables. The new network is expected to run close to 16,000 kilometers from southern Sudan to Tanzania’s border with Zambia. The terrestrial network called the East Africa Backhaul System will connect to the submarine fiber-optic cables on the East Africa coast.
However some governments have already moved to suppress freedom on the Internet. According to recent report from Freedom House, Ethiopia’s Internet is one of the least free in the world. Internet access has been denied and controlled through monopolizing the communications industry to curtail freedom of expression. In Ethiopia the few people that access the Internet that is government controlled cannot freely express themselves.