Where is Africa in the expanding trajectories of the Internet? – Part 2
A Corollary challenge arises from the specter of cybercrimes and security issues. Ownership of Internet content automatically raises the gravity of a state’s capacity to protect those contents. The digital economy dynamics is the most prone to cybercrime which has itself become as sophisticated as the evolving technologies that created the worldwide web. If the Pentagon and other critically guided organisations can be successfully hacked, what do we say about the Internet status of critical African institutions and economies that are still at the hesitant stage of incorporation?
All these challenges outlined above only presage a really deeper one. And this is the absence of a sufficiently dynamic Internet policy grounded on a compelling theoretical research that would not only match the evolving research framework that gave birth to the Internet itself, but also incorporate an African technological component into the framework of the Internet. This is really the critical issue at stake. While African countries have been rather long on rhetoric, especially about the significance of a STEM education as well as science, technology and innovation (STI) for national development, they have been too short on practical implementation of significantly concrete policies that will translate their political rhetoric to cogent policy frameworks. It is still not clear whether, for instance, African countries have made any serious progress towards meeting the target of dedicating one per cent of their total GDP to research and development (R&D). There are even no available data to track development progress! Thus, for Africa to become truly developmental, it is not sufficient for the continent to just pursue getting an enlarged presence on the Internet. Rather, it must be willing to craft an Internet policy dynamics that will facilitate significant contributions in terms of an efficient Internet R&D.
The Google-ISGPP Internet Policy Conference therefore becomes very timely and imperative because it brings to the Roundtable a multidisciplinary team of academics, practitioners and scholars to brainstorm on these outlined challenges as well as issues of governance and development, knowledge and capacity building, entrepreneurship and innovation, intellectual property and security, etc. The ultimate objective of the Roundtable is to jumpstart a critical development trajectory that will give birth to a Pan-African Think Tank on Internet Policy which will serve as a dynamic platform for inspiring new frontiers in academic research that will then critically advance digital industrialisation by Africans for Africans. Recently, African leaders and scholars have come under the grips of the “Africa Rising” euphoria backed by some impressive economic growth data of about 7 per cent.
A further opportunity to boost a truly rising African development profile comes from the capacity of African states to boost the potential for efficient digital economies at the critical juncture of digital innovation and technologies, digital accessibility, governance foresight, and wealth generation. However, what kind of philosophy of innovation in Africa can bring about thriving digital economies? To answer this question means beginning with a glaring absence of such a developmental philosophy as a crucial antecedent to a formidable developmental state in Africa. The top ten states in Africa with very high Internet penetration are Nigeria (48.4 users), Egypt (29.8m), Morocco (16.5m), Kenya (12m), South Africa (8.5m), Sudan (6.5m), Tanzania (5.6m), Algeria (5.2m), Uganda (4.4m), and Tunisia (4.2m). In spite of this high penetration, these countries have still not become outstanding examples of digital economies or of a developmental state.
At the minimum, therefore, the Google-ISGPP Roundtable will attempt to lay the foundation of an academic reflection on Internet policy and development initiatives that will (a) seek to connect emerging disruptive technologies to the efficiency of digital infrastructure on the continent; (b) generate the gem of research thinking on the idea of innovative ecosystem and economic diversification in the unfolding Internet and knowledge economy; and (c) map the relationship between the dynamics of the Internet and other digital trends to the awakening of the entrepreneurial creativity in Africa. All these derive from the will to go forward in the drive to establish an Internet Policy that will link both research and development efforts across the continent. Thus, this African academic collaboration will become a significant groundwork to establish the fundamental theoretical foundation that could identify the core issues required to nurture an African contribution to the dynamics of Internet policy across the globe.
The Roundtable, at the end of its proceedings, will achieve two significant things. First, it will become the nucleus of an African academic community of practice on the Internet and Internet policy. This community will then be broadened and strengthened over time into a large theoretical space that will mainly define the African best practices in internet innovation and digital governance economy. This community of practice, through working papers, research themes, conferences and seminars, publication and social media marketing, etc., would be expected to continually define the relationship between digital infrastructure and governance in Africa. Second, as an immediate benefit, the Roundtable will produce an action plan—The Academic Action Plan on Internet Policy in Africa (AAPIPA)—together with a template for its dissemination and implementation across the continent.
The Google-ISGPP Roundtable has only three days to unravel, but its impact is expected to become the seed for transforming reflection and policy research on the utility of the Internet and digital infrastructures in Africa. Finally, there is a real attempt, grounded in active research, that could lead in the final analysis to a truly rising profile for Africa in terms of a genuine economic matrix that can empower Africans, as the continent marches into the twenty first century defined by robust digital interactions founded on knowledge.
Olaopa is executive vice-chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP).