Africa needs ‘resilient, open, inclusive and secure’ internet to advance digitally
African countries have been urged to invest in building resilient internet infrastructure to tap digital opportunities and accelerate social and economic transformation on the continent.
Global leaders attending the 17th Internet Governance Forum (IGF 2022) being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, underscored the importance of digital technologies as tools for enhancing development across Africa.
“The internet’s contribution to social development is immense, the democratisation of knowledge and communication, access to entrepreneurship skills and new employment opportunities health care access and education are a few noteworthy ones,” said Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
The Prime Minister said there is need for cautioned optimism around ownership of critical digital infrastructure, data governance and cyber security as data governance was about harmonising roles of the digital ecosystem to spur economic development while protecting individual rights.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, told participants that while digital technologies were transforming lives and livelihoods, they were outpacing regulations and exacerbating inequalities around the world.
He called for a human-centred digital future based on a resilient internet that is open, inclusive, and secure for all in line with his proposed Global Digital Compact. According to the UN leader, the proposed Global Digital Compact aims to deliver universal connectivity, close the digital divide and reach the millions of people who are not connected to the internet.
Guterres added, "The safe, secure human-centred digital space begins with the protection of free speech, freedom of expression and the right to online autonomy and privacy.”
He emphasised that governments, private companies and social media platforms have a responsibility to prevent online bullying and misinformation that undermines democracy, human rights and science.
"We need to work for a safe, equitable and open digital future that does not infringe on the privacy or dignity," Guterres urged.
Acting Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Antonio Pedro, said reducing the digital divide is essential to building new pathways for rapid economic growth, innovation, job creation and access to services in Africa.
“Harmonising regulations to remove barriers to connectivity both within African nations and across the continent is crucial,” he said, and explained that harmonised regulations will facilitate the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Statistics show that an estimated 871 million people are not connected to the internet in Africa and access was even limited in rural areas. Though 70% of Africa’s population technically has access to mobile internet, less than 25% are making use of the internet due to the high cost of mobile internet across the region, Pedro noted.
“The lack of digital and literacy skills is another key barrier to achieving digital inclusion,” he said and added: “These skills gaps have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where the expansion of online education, e-healthcare, e-commerce and remote work, have left a large portion of the population without internet access even further behind.”
Pedro said the need for meaningful digital connectivity to boost sustainable development, particularly for the Least Developing Countries (LDCs), has never been more urgent.