Africa must tap into tech and data, the new oil of the internet economy
The 17th edition of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from November 28 to December 2, giving Africa yet another chance to chart its way forward in data governance, internet rights, cyber security and adoption of frontier technologies.
In a world whose future hinges on 5G connectivity, the metaverse, Web3, artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, big data, cloud computing, 4D printing and quantum computing, African governments must prepare adequately for a massive economic disruption.
Inclusivity was a key goal of the conference, though many Africans still live outside the tech realm. This year’s theme was ‘Resilient Internet for a Shared Sustainable and Common Future’.
The forum brought together government officers, ICT gurus, company CEOs and tech stakeholders to drive a conversation around making sure no African country is left behind in the current Fourth Industrial Revolution.
From Mogadishu to Dakar, Cairo to Pretoria, Tunis to Antananarivo, Lagos to Dar es Salaam, a new call is being made for Africans to refrain from being consumers of technology and become producers of tech products for the world.
As the West and East enhance the deployment of AI and robotics in manufacturing, healthcare and agriculture, this is an opportune moment for Africa to unleash its tech potential and create home-based solutions to solve the challenges that have for so long kept it at the bottom of the global tech supply chain.
Already, advanced digital technologies are increasingly influencing Africa’s economy and society. AI systems that power smart devices, direct our online experiences, and influence our own decisions, as well as decisions others make about us, should now be part of our economic strategies in building a new African economy powered by tech.
That said, these technologies have drawbacks in addition to their promises, but we must work together as stakeholders to avert the risks.
The protection of networks, devices, and data from unauthorized access or criminal usage is the focus of traditional cybersecurity. This issue has been made worse by the lack of comprehensive and legally binding cybersecurity agreements.
I was much thrilled when Togo, in collaboration with the United Nations, announced in August that they were creating a cybersecurity centre to serve all African countries in monitoring, detecting and researching about cyber threats. That should be the spirit.
Through the African Union, we should have such centres for every modern technology; AI, cloud, 5G and IoT are at the centre of Industry 4.0 and we need a continental research centre for it. The same applies to Web3 technologies such as blockchain, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), cryptocurrencies and Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs).
Data is the new oil in the internet economy. Big data analytics has laid the foundation for ground-breaking advancements in banking, healthcare and law enforcement.
African countries should form one powerful data protection law, just like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe.
The privacy of personal data is all too frequently compromised during data transfers, from the point of collection to application and storage, with serious negative effects on trust and security. We are a 1.3 billion continent, the same size as China and India and four times bigger than the US. Let’s protect our data.
A core value of the IGF is the maintenance of an open, free and interoperable internet. The call for a framework that prioritises the rights and freedoms of internet users through infrastructural end-to-end coherence has been echoed in the Global Digital Compact (GDC).
The first tenet of the proposed GDC centres on connecting all people to the internet, including all schools.
However, there are still over 500 million Africans who lack access to the internet, with rural areas suffering the most. It is time we enhanced internet penetration to the rural zones and made mobile internet affordable to all Africans.
Let’s make tech our oxygen.
Mr Ngila is the East and Southern Africa Correspondent at Quartz. [email protected] Twitter: @Fauza4IR