By Adekunle Adeboboye
Let it be said unequivocally, that the benefits of Information Communications Technology (ICT) in today’s world are well documented and need not be restated here beyond simply alluding to the fact that it enables productivity, savings on time and costs, speeding up and facilitation of transactions, access to superior and more up to date information, easier and cheaper communication both domestically and internationally and in e-commerce, access to a wider and global economic market at relatively little cost. With the wave of ICT innovation rearing its head daily one can say that we are living in an era where ICT is advancing faster than the Arctic sea ice melts.
As noted above, the amount and speed of change that ICT is capable of providing is mind boggling. There are already demonstrated potential on how ICT can be deployed to provide solution in health care, infrastructures, poverty, unemeployment, climate change adaptation, education, skills development and sustainable development. These are crucial challenges that is currently plaguing Africa and continue to stunt its potential growth and development.
Africa therefore needs to be a key player and not a spectator in this all important tools. Africa leaders needs therefore to fashion out ICT policies that clearly reflect their realities, yearnings and aspiration as a people, one that can clearly and practically demonstrate how ICT can be used to promote and preserve diverse communities, cultures and ecosystem and that can clear the air on some cynical perceptions still being held by some in Africa that ICT undercut tradition, cultures and roots
United Nations have recognised that ICT could be a contributing factor to achieving its Millennium Development goal of reduction of poverty and of the economic development generally. ICT holds the potential to be the transforming factor; facilitators of change, innovation and creativity for many developments in years to come in Africa, as such all hands must be on deck to ensure that robust and all encompassing ICT policies are put in place by Africa leaders and governments.
The present national monopolies attitude of Africa governments to ICT must change. National monopolies have proved to be inefficient, costly, and sometimes corrupt. If quality ICT policies are put in place and well implemented in African countries, ICT could reduce Africa poverty; empower people; build capacities, skills and networks; inspire new governance mechanisms and reinforce popular participation at all levels.
The key area of intervention is how to ensure internet access to rural areas so as to turn digital divide into possible digital opportunity, to make internet cheaper and readily available to people from all walks of life in Africa. Building the required infrastructure is a daunting problem in Africa; this is because in many Africa countries government are confronted by problems of infrastructure, health, unemployment and most importantly illiteracy but these challenges, under an appropriate ICT policices, can be turned around into opportunities
Another possible area of intervention is the empowerment of communities, women and youth in Africa through consistent and continuous awareness campaign on the critical role of ICT for development in a democratic society.
The dismantling of state monopoly of ICT tools and medium such as the internet and telephones can also be a key intervention. In Africa, government still has a hold on public broadcasting which many people rely on in the absence of cheap accessible internet.
Intervention can also be in the form of ensuring creation of a safe and trusted internet and engaging in a robust public debate with the aim of achieving an acceptable balance between security and privacy on the internet. The Internet to date has enabled new forms of personal interaction such as instant messaging, Internet forums, and social networking and it has also become a treasure trove of knowledge, a market place, a school, and a place to connect to others. Promoting safe use of the internet and combating illegal or harmful content would go a long way to reinforce the internet as truly the engine of a new emergent networked economy.
With regards to the relationship between human rights and the internet i make bold to say that the internet and human right are two side of a coin. In the words of Tapscott describing the internet in 1995, he argues that “it is not simply about the networking of technology but about the networking of humans through technology .It is not an age of smart machines but of humans,who through networks can combine their intelligence, knowledge and creativity in the creation of wealth and social development .It is an age of vast new promise and unimaginable opportunity ,but it is also an age of peril “.
In my opinion Tapscott statement is truer today than it was in 1995.That the internet has redefined our world today is an understatement, the internet has become an unstoppable force .The pace of innovation on the internet is truly awesome, a typical example is the social media revolution, even though it appears that some of these changes happened overnight most of us cannot imagine going back to a world without the internet. In today’s world, access to information is paramount. Yes, the internet brings with it opportunity, challenges and threats but the challenges pale into insignificance when compared to the opportunities.
Methinks that the internet deserve the same protection and universal access as a basic fundamental right. As it recently played out in the spate of protest and popular uprisings in Tunisia, and Egypt and the recent Kony video(which documents the activities of an alleged Ugandan war criminal ) in Uganda which went viral and attracted 15millions views in just three days ,one can safely argue that the internet by its very nature can be a force for equality, good governance and true democracy in Africa, after all some analysts asserts that one of the true test of democracy is freedom of criticism.
It is noteworthy that in June 2011 the UN declared internet access as a basic human right .Africans must therefore not only strive to ensure freedom of expression on the internet, but must continuously advocate access to it by all citizens.