Africa’s digital economy is not compatible with internet shutdowns – Quartz Africa

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Covid-19 has pushed much of the world into the digital realm for everything from schooling and work to religious worship and dating. At the same time, many governments were turning off data connections. Total or partial shutdowns of the Internet and social media are increasingly common in the context of “authoritative digital“Toolbox.

Many leaders seem threatened by the way digital media allow information sharing and organization. Research shows that 2020 saw 156 full or partial shutdowns of the Internet or social media like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. South Asia accounts for nearly three quarters of these closures, led by India.

Africa was the second worst affected region, with 20 closures affecting 12 countries. The disruptions lasted as little as a day or less in Burundi, Egypt and Togo, to almost 90 days in parts of Ethiopia. Oromia region. A recent social media blockage in Chad lasted more than a year.

And 2021 has already seen closures in Niger, Senegal, and Uganda.

Governments have given various justifications for these movements. These include: combating hate speech and fake news Chad and Ethiopia, suppressing violence in Sudanand prevent cheating exams Algeria and Sudan. Disturbances in Mali in 2020 coincided with anti-government protests, while closures were timed around the elections in Burundi, Guinea, Tanzania, and To go.

In some cases, the official reasoning has changed over time. When Uganda shut down digital media in its January 2021 election, Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa mentionned it was retaliation for the actions of Facebook and Twitter against government accounts. Investigations alleged the government was late “coordinated inauthentic behavior»Using fake accounts to spread disinformation and intimidate the opposition. After the election, however, Kutesa mentionned this decision was “a necessary step to put an end to vitriolic language and incitement to violence”.

Views on the limits of digital media

Online comments generally criticize these closings harshly. But these publications are not necessarily representative of general public opinion in the affected countries.

To have a broader opinion on these issues, we analysis Afrobarometer data. It is an independent African research network that conducted nationally representative surveys in 18 countries in 2019/20. About 27,000 Africans participated in these surveys.

A greater proportion of respondents support access to digital media. When given the choice between two statements, 48% agreed that “unlimited access to the internet and social media helps people be more informed and active citizens, and should be protected.” Only 36% agreed that “information shared on the internet and social media divides (our country), therefore access should be regulated by the government”.

Majorities in 10 countries supported unrestricted access. Support was highest in Cabo Verde (64%), Gabon (63%), Côte d’Ivoire (63%) and Nigeria (61%). Majorities supported regulation in just three countries: Mali (53%), Ethiopia (53%) and Tunisia (59%).

Protect freedoms

Not surprisingly, regular users of digital media were more supportive of freedoms. Of the 37% of respondents who said they used some form of digital media for their news at least a few times a week, 62% were in favor of unrestricted access. Only 35% were in favor of the regulation.

More than half (54%) of respondents said they had never used digital media for news in the past month. These non-users were more divided, with 37% in favor of regulation and 39% in favor of unrestricted access. A quarter (24%) of non-users did not share an opinion or could not choose between posts.

Factors like age, residence and education also made a difference. Groups most likely to use digital media were also more supportive of unrestricted access. Younger people (18-25) were almost twice as likely to oppose restrictions as older people (over 60) (56% vs. 30%). Urban residents preferred unrestricted access more than rural residents (56% vs. 43%). And those with a post-secondary education were much more supportive of unrestricted access than those with no formal education (60% vs. 34%). Men were only slightly more supportive of unrestricted digital media than women (50% vs. 47%).

Perhaps surprisingly, support for unrestricted digital media does not fit perfectly into the political sense. Even among those who said they were doing “enough” or “a lot” to their president, 45% were still in favor of unrestricted digital media, compared with 39% who were in favor of restrictions. Those who said they trusted their national leader “little” or “not at all” were even more in favor of open digital media: 53% supported unrestricted access and 34% supported regulations.

Cost of stops

Restricting digital media is a gamble for African leaders. On the one hand, many governments are embracing digital media shutdown, especially around elections and protests, to limit threats. They argue that such measures are necessary to put an end to “the dissemination of messages inciting hatred and division”, as Chadian government spokesperson Put the. In some cases, such as Ethiopia and Mali, people generally seem to favor government restrictions.

But commerce, education and social communication are increasingly online. Analysis found that digital media restrictions cost African economies some $ 237 million in 2020. And using Afrobarometer data from 16 countries, we find that the share of Africans who regularly receive news from digital media has almost doubled from from 22% to 38%, between 2014 and 2019.

If African populations are now skeptical about the limits of digital media, this opposition could grow as more people enter the digital space for commerce, work, education, entertainment and social communications. The closures will not only lead to higher economic costs, but also likely to cause greater public outrage.

Joseph Koné, associate researcher and in charge of finances at the Center for Research and Training on Integrated Development (CREFDI), the national partner of Afrobarometer in Côte d’Ivoire, was co-author of the research on which this article is based. .

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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