Kenya did right to reject US internet declaration

PEACE submarine internet cable

L-R: ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, Telkom chairperson Eng Eddy Njoroge, Data Commissioner Immaculate Kassait, Telkom CEO Mugo Kibati, ICT Chief Administrative Secretary Nadia Abdallah, PEACE high representative Oliver Zheng, Blockchain and AI taskforce chair Prof Bitange Ndemo and Mombasa County ICT CEC Ahmed Anwar during the launch of the sixth submarine internet cable at Nyali Mombasa on March 29, 2022. 

Photo credit: Faustine Ngila / Nation Media Group

On May 3, Kenya made history by denouncing its listing under the US-led ‘Declaration for the Future of the Internet’. The Government Spokesman explained that protocol was not followed in listing the country as one of the 55 signatories. Although not legally binding, international instruments require approval by Parliament and the Cabinet. Kenya is a signatory to many such declarations,  such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The internet controls numerous things in ordinary people’s lives. With 4.95 billion users worldwide, chances are that you have read a newspaper, made a call, checked email or the weather, or numerous other things on the internet. Millions of jobs and many nations’ economies are driven by the internet, and a disruption would be a nightmare. Given its nature as a “network of networks of networks”, the internet is almost impossible to police. Yet nations and various entities have attempted to police it. That is where the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war comes in.

Censorship

According to the EU, Russia had “threatened to disconnect partially or totally from the internet”. Further, there was a risk of “being misused, as there is currently a surge in cyberattacks, online censorship and disinformation”.  Perhaps fearing that the ideological Nato-aligned west was winning the propaganda war against it, Russia has sought to burn down the house (internet) altogether. Such a threat is hardly surprising coming from its leader, Vladimir Putin, who has also threatened to unleash his nuclear arsenal on the world.

Like Samson of the Bible bringing down the Philistines with him in one last battle, Putin threatens to obliterate the face of the world (and Russia with it), in order to spite his ‘Ukraine’ nose. The internet is part of his deadly game.

Yet the EU/US declaration on the future of the internet is baffling and paradoxical in many respects, ranging from the timing of its release, to the stated objectives, and the parties championing it, especially the White House. 

White House

The White House has supported, tacitly or otherwise, outright censorship at home, mainly against former President Donald Trump. It has openly courted Twitter, Google and Facebook censorship against “Covid deniers” and “climate deniers” and “the January 6 insurrection plotters” to the extent that complex algorithms automatically delete some videos, texts and messages. The American Frontline Doctors, like Trump, have had their internet presence suspended for “disinformation”. Who decides what is true and on what basis?

This partial history gives context to the declaration on the future of the internet, and the moral authority (or lack thereof) of the parties behind it. The internet declaration is couched in the language of human rights and freedoms. Kenya may yet debate and ratify it, but as things stand, it will be difficult to convince countries outside the EU that the declaration was done in good faith and that they should be part of it.

Mr Okoth teaches communication at the Technical University of Kenya. [email protected]

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.