Some thoughts on ICT policy in Africa

Last year events in North Africa and the Middle East showed how ICT and media may have an impact on the future of people and countries. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt was successful mainly thanks to social media. Furthermore, restricting access to the Internet by some governments (Egypt and Syria) proved its failure; it rather enraged people and gave rise to a series of protests and demonstrations of millions of people fighting for dignity and freedom.

The linkage between Internet and human rights is quite clear. Internet technologies provide an alternative medium for, among other things, information flow and realization of freedoms (of expression, access to public information and association) leading towards social changes. Internet technologies are truly catalysts for development considerations.

Nevertheless, moves are being taken towards putting restrictions and limitations on access to Internet and its content (data applications). Intellectual property laws, for instance, are bolstered at the expense of access to Internet and the public interest it should serve.

The urgency for attention to ICT policy in Africa is undeniable. The digital divide is widening up between the high-income countries and low-income ones. Africa’s weak density of ICT infrastructure reinforcing low ICT penetration and utilization is excluding it from the international arena. The costs are enormously high at the political, socio-economic, and humanitarian levels.

Africa needs to adopt and adapt to the 21st Century’s tools: Internet technologies. Such tools are prerequisites for making the transition towards Information Society, commonly known also as Knowledge Age. This requires elaboration of ICT policy favoring ICT supply end. The diffusion and availability of ICT infrastructure layer is a mandatory pre-requisite. ICT material should be within the reach of the masses. ICT material should retool Africa’s governance structures to accomplish its administrative operations.

Adopting 21st Century’s tools, Internet technologies, entails also developing ICT applications responding to Africa’s perceived needs. ICT applications have transformative powers; ICT applications impressive capabilities in storing, processing, and analyzing huge amounts of data to speedily present and share pieces of information upon request are truly changing the face of the world. Africa’s ICT policy needs to actively encourage developing applications assisting Africa’s institutions and constituencies in development efforts and problem-solving processes. Africa’s structures urgently need appropriate ICT applications helping in the accomplishment of their respective missions efficiently, effectively, increasing responsiveness requirements and improving the quality of governance towards integrating and routinizing good governance practices.

Africa’s ICT policies also need to be supportive of ICT demand end. The availability of ICT infrastructure and related applications usually end up underused when the people layer is overlooked, specifically when social ills, such as basic illiteracy and digital illiteracy, plague Africa’s nations. The openness of ICT policies should back ICT uptake, compulsory for the generation of ICT transformative effects. ICT policies to be effective should adopt a cross-sectoral approach, with special attention to education, health and government services.

One additional key priority area is building the capacity requirements enabling Africa to effectively participate, affect, and shape the complex processes of Internet governance decision making. This has become critical within a problematic international context featured with policing attempts to legislate restrictions on Internet, and thus, human rights.