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Africa and the Internet: a 21st century human rights issue?

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We were looking at Internet freedom and before I had asked how this basic right would be realized for many in Africa. Mr. Scott said that just like mobile banking (MPesa, Mobile money) is doing tremendously well in Africa, Internet access will continue to be tied to mobile telephone penetration in Africa. He indicated that Africa’s mobile phone penetration has surpassed Europe’s yet it’s still at 40 percent. This makes the Internet and mobile phone market pose both an economic and political opportunity.

In most discussions it was clear that we have two types of freedoms related to the Internet; freedom to access Internet and freedom of expression on the Internet. World leading economies have thrived on information systems and making them accessible to all citizens, therefore increasing their participation in the economy. A connected society is going to be more prosperous and stable.

Many governments in Africa are moving to invest heavily in the laying down of Internet infrastructure. As more people on the continent are connected to the Internet, they will also seek a different kind of governance because of the access to information. This is what Scott called, a dictator’s dilemma.

"Everyone recognizes that future of economy is largely based on information infrastructure. So governments want populations connected but at the same time they want to control speech on these networks and it’s a dilemma,” Scott said. “Internet tends to shift power from centralized institutions to many leaders representing different communities. Governments who want to censor are fighting a battle against the nature of the technology,” Scott said.

So the dilemma faced by that despotic leader, whom we have in plenty on the continent, is political speech versus economic prosperity. Scott said: “You can’t have one and leave the other and that’s the exact dictator’s dilemma.”

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