Online Africa Weekly Top 10: the ‘hype cycle’, attracting tech investment, Net Neutrality, a mobile health infographic, and more
A few themes from this past week’s headlines are worth discussing in greater detail.
Regulation of online content continues to be a threat
Amid speculation, Uganda Communications Commission is working toward a policy that will regulate internet usage. On top of that, a number of other laws have passed in recent months that limit online freedom. The reported goal is to maintain national security without infringing on people’s rights. In most African nations, there is limited legislation to protect online users. At the same time, communications regulators and governments often lack clearly defined powers to enforce the right to freedom of expression. Generally speaking, African governments police social media under the banner of keeping the public safe. And in most cases, this is true – very few arrests are reported given the millions of African internet users. Still, the potential for legislation is often enough to create a sense of fear among users. Perhaps this fear is justified given the fact that freedom of the press is sub-par in most nations, but the truth is that explicit regulation of online users is years away.
What does Net Neutrality mean for Africa?
The idea that all Internet data should be treated equality has been front and center in the USA this month. Steve Song has done an excellent job in dissecting the implications of African Net Neutrality in a post for his blog Many Possibilities. He surmises that Africa’s internet will never be truly neutral. Most internet content is located in places like the United States. For Africa to connect to these servers it takes investment in undersea fibre cables and additional costs to access peering points. Telecoms monopolies charge high rates for access to international gateways. Efforts for free Facebook or Wikipedia access are biased, even if they do currently provide a useful service for less affluent Africans. Mr. Song speaks the truth when he closes that “the secret to Net Neutrality is a competitive wholesale and retail market for Internet services and that is true everywhere.”
Ethiopia has limited internet access but a bevy of innovators
IceAddis and xHub are two budding tech hubs in Addis Ababa. The former has been around for years; the latter is brand new. Both face limited national ICT infrastructure and challenges with securing foreign investment. As Erik Hersman of White African points out, the hubs will most likely need to collaborate with the Ethiopian government if they are to create long-term startup businesses. The local population is huge and the opportunities are great – assuming funding can be had.
Morocco’s tech industry faces a bevy of challenges
What must Morocco do before the nation can enjoy a higher level of entrepreneurship? Mehdi Reghai has written a great post for the blog Wamda. Most importantly, the private sector needs to become more interested in tech startups. Investors need to take the plunge as the tech sector does have the potential for profit. At the same time, the government should consider adjusting the finance laws so that businesses are not burdened by 20% of their turnover. A focus on R&D from higher up would help encourage innovation as well. University students could use more dedicated computer or startup training (and practical work during school). Lastly, the nation could use more tech incubators, and perhaps a tech district.
The internet has existed for 25 years and is only just beginning to impact Africa
In an interview with The Guardian, Bitango Ndemo, chair of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, speaks on how the internet is improving lives in Africa. As he mentions, the internet has allowed more people to access financial services. The benefits also extend to job creation, improved agricultural productivity, and closer relationships between government and citizens. The continent is truly making global contributions – something Dr. Ndemo wouldn’t have imagined ten years ago. Social media is easy to understand by the masses and also has the potential to challenge governments for change. However, one of the challenges for the next couple of decades is maintaining online freedom. Connectivity is important, especially in rural areas, as is affordable access. However, cybersecurity could become a major roadblock to online usage if steps aren’t taken to protect the rights of users.
Be wary of tech’s ‘hype cycle’
Alex Pompe, head of IREX’s Technical Assistance to Regional Study and Resource Centers program in Namibia, addressed this dilemma during a session on the role of technology in education at an annual development conference. On one hand, excitement around new tech products (like the iPhone) is good in that it boosts excitement for the tech industry and it encourages app development. Negatively, the hype quickly fades and leaves little lasting impact. More importantly in the long-term, as Kurt Moses, director of education practice in South Sudan for FHI 360, mentions, technology needs three parts to take hold:
- people who want to be empowered,
- the processes — whether political or social — to make that possible
- the technology itself
Currently, technology that improves communication is viable in developing countries.
Distance education can redevelop higher education in Libya
Libya’s new government is looking toward education to diversity the economy and make the country an academic hub for the region. Progress has been slow since the Revolution and cooperation is still needed among faculty, students, government, and the international community. There is no consensus whether online learning can improve higher education in Libya though many feel online education can take stresses off the current system. First, broadband and mobile internet access needs to be improved. Once internet connections are more reliable, educators should look toward a hybrid online-offline model. Distance learning could lower societal pressures on women. MOOCs, if offered in Arabic, could allow for unique training programs not otherwise offered in Libya.
Sao Tome and Principe’s telecoms monopoly is about to end
Not much in terms of ICT news comes out of this island nation of 200,000 people, but a 24-year monopoly held by Companhia Santomense de Telecomunicacoes (a joint venture between Portugal Telecom and the government) has ended on May 23rd with the launch of Unitel’s mobile service. Usually, a duopoly leads to lower costs for consumers and will tend to improve the quality of mobile service. Such progression is applauded but the list of African telecoms monopolies is still too large.
Strengthening ICT among Malian youth and leaders
Three recent events note how various organizations are focused on improving ICT skills.
- A workshop was held in May 9th to strengthen the ICT skills of the National Assembly. Parliament members were told how digital tools can improve relationships between the government and citizens.
- An annual meeting of Coordination of Associations and Clubs ICT Mali (CACTIC) on May 10th discussed ways to empower youth via ICT. One idea is to utilize SMS to encourage national reconciliation. ICT training for 1,000 youth is also in the works.
- The Prime Minister has spoken about reforming the education system to better develop good citizens who are employable. The PM expresses his desire to have one PC for every student. ICT skills will be utilized more at the university level to make Malian graduates competitive in the regional job market.
Mobile healthcare can prevent, diagnose, and treat
An infographic from Orange Healthcare reminds us how m-health is saving lives across rural Africa. Rural patients can have basic healthcare access in rural areas thanks to remote diagnosis capability. Mobile initiatives provide understanding of diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria. Other SMS-based programs are working to love perinatal and maternal mortality by 30%.