Let’s connect Sub-Saharan Africa


We live in a highly connected world where there are few things that go by without it being spread all over the web. The internet, and the idea of being “connected” have become a major characteristic of our Western culture. On another side of the planet in Sub-Saharan Africa, progress is being made to bring that region into a “connected” culture. Africa is a large continent, with thousands of tribes and different languages. Exposing this region to an “online community” might bring the same unifying effect, we believe, as the language Swahili did in Tanzania.

african-internet

Picture retrieved from: Mistbreaker.com

The last annual report by internetsociety.org tells us that nearly half the worlds population is connected to the internet, most of whom are connected through the use mobile devices.This development has brought upon many changes to the way in which we go about our daily lives, bringing broader opportunities. The internet is a platform that is difficult to control. Iran for instance, as the Washington Post reports, continuously fail to keep its population off blocked websites like Facebook. The internet is a great place for likeminded people to meet, and can be an important tool for individuals in countries with restrictions to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, as people can easily obtain anonymity and join forums to discuss cultural and political issues. In that sense, the internet can be a more effective tool for improving democracy than economic sanctions  will ever be.

The easy access to internet does of course come with its pitfalls, with issues like online drug markets and child pornography, but these issues aren’t unique to the internet and the online community. What is unique to the internet though, is the possibility to spread a common set of values in what we can call a “online public opinion”. If you go to popular “meme” and forum pages such as 9gag, reddit or imgur, you will see people across borders sharing images, often portraying a common set of values. These values are often in favor of democracy and against inequalities.

Furthermore, If we look at the possibilities regarding democracy, accessibility to internet would be a ground breaking means of educating  citizens and would encourage active political participation. Education, is of course the basis of democracy and indeed, people would then be  able to understand how the world is working and become critical on their own country’s functioning. Moreover, it goes without saying  that the Internet nowadays  can be regarded as the biggest resource of retrieving knowledge, as well as ideas from like minded people. By having access to Internet, literacy rates and knowledge on basic civil rights, health, sexuality, development and so on would rise exceptionally in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. It could perhaps also give citizens the means to  question dictatorships in this region, which are basically based on a form of obscurantism Internet access in this region would then  could then encourage future political participations for the generations to come. For example, Khan Academy is a free learning website where anyone who has access to Internet is then able to “learn anything”. The more , the people can access Internet, the more likelihood of younger generations gaining further education and knowledge to hopefully implement important sustainable changes in the region when they take over power positions.

Sub-Saharan Africa , however, still has a long way to go with only 17% of its population online, compared to North America’s 84%. But it’s growth rate is larger than most other regions. Projects to increase the internet access in the region are rare, but they exist. A satellite soon will be launched to provide internet to Africa according to Mark Zuckerberg. This project is held in partnership with the Facebook foundation, internet.org.

According to CNN  said Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org the following in a statement“Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa.”  The goal is to connect rural African areas to the internet. By this initiative, African people would be able to be interconnected but also connected to the whole world.The foundation also created ‘Free Basics’ which aims to provide basic mobile websites and services to mobile’s owners. Already, 85% of the world’s population lives in areas with existing cellular coverage so this project would be efficient to African people and increase their internet penetration rate. Half of the 40 Free Basics countries are now in Africa and Nigeria is the latest country to get access to its services dedicated to health, education, jobs, and finance. Mark Zuckerberg hopes also that internet connectivity would help to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development goals.

As this article argues, there are many aspects and benefits of the internet that intertwine. Through increasing internet access and exposing underdeveloped countries to the ideas of  “online public opinion”, we believe, it  can become a more effective  means compared to the traditional state-to-state aid. Giving people a platform to communicate is equivalent to making a platform to change. To change a society, people must connect. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from “severe distances”. The internet can virtually eradicate these distances and bring young people together. Rather than demanding the ruling generation to change, let’s give the next one a platform to do so.

 

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