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Africa has little cause for celebration as the Web turns 29

Africa has little cause for celebration as the Web turns 29

It has been 29 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee founded and invented the World Wide Web and while the milestone is celebrated across the globe, Africa is forced to acknowledge that more needs to be done to provide wider access to the Net.

Onica Makwakwa, Africa Coordinator at the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) says the global event serves as a reminder of Africa's place in an ever more connected world.

"Sometime this year we will also have a situation where half of the world's population will be online. We can celebrate how far we have come with using the web to improve lives, but while this moment is exciting, it is a reminder of how critical it is for us to now double down and connect those who remain unconnected - especially in the last mile. They are the ones that need this connectivity even more. As Africans we can celebrate, but this is a moment that challenges us to work even more to keep the web open and accessible to everyone. We should not leave anyone behind."

Makwakwa says A4AI's work has been focused on the policy and regulatory environment on the continent to ensure more affordable broadband in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Mozambique.

"Affordability is one of the key reasons keeping people away from the web. While we are talking about half of the world's population being online, (in) Africa specifically we are still at twenty five percent in terms of internet penetration ... so we are focusing on policies that can improve affordability like infrastructure sharing in a way that can eventually spread access to more people. We are also working on taxation, spectrum management and some consumer related issues around pricing transparency. In South Africa, for example, we have shared our input into the country's Draft Electronic Communications Amendment (ECA) Bill recommending for the ministry to set clear targets that are time bound on initiatives for empowering women in the digital space by reducing cost and tackling harassment among others."

A4AI's '1 for 2' target for affordable internet, which sets a threshold for 1GB of mobile broadband data for 2% or less of GNI per capita, has only been adopted by Nigeria and Ghana, and most recently by the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development which is co-chaired by Rwanda's president and Chair of the African Union (AU) Paul Kagame.

"Now that the target has been adopted by the United Nations, all of the countries that are signed on will need to adapt to the target which will now be aligned to ICT-related sustainable development goals and be used to measure progress in getting people on the web," concludes Makawaka.

Sir Berners-Lee published a letter today in which he states that in many ways the web has managed to live up to his vision of being an open platform, although he has become increasingly worried over people losing control of their personal data, the use of the Web to spread misinformation and the increasingly sophisticated area of political advertising online.

"In the past year, we have seen Nigerians stand up to a social media bill that would have hampered free expression online, popular outcry and protests at regional internet shutdowns in Cameroon and great public support for net neutrality in both India and the European Union. It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want - for everyone."

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