$237 million lost in three years
Fourth edition of the annual Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (Fifafrica) 2017 ended on a high note in Johannesburg on Friday with a strong call to an end to internet shutdowns by governments in the Sub-Saharan Africa.
The three-day forum, running from 27-29 September, plunged into a political debate on the last day accusing African governments of resorting to shutting down the internet instead of dealing with specific culprits, a practice which the participants said costs the region huge sums of money. The participants wondered why internet shutdown is a priority for African governments.
“We have different groups of people on the internet and they use it differently. There is no reason for government to shutdown the whole internet because of a single culprit and disregard the impact of the action to everyone who uses the internet. Why is it hard to just deal with the main culprit?” queried one of the participants from Kenya, Fiona Asonga amidst hand claps.
Zimbabwe’s deputy director responsible for communications in the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Infrastructural Development James Mutandwa Madya promised the forum that they will never shutdown the internet. He, however, lamented high irresponsibility among internet users and said it is impossible for governments to watch people abusing the service.
Said Madya: “No right is absolute, so too the freedom of expression on the internet. Those who abuse the service will have to face the law.”
The forum also called for more efforts to precisely quantify the costs of internet shutdowns in the region as it was revealed that up to now, the region lacks tools to accurately quantify loses to internet shutdowns. Some participants argued that governments resort to internet shutdowns because they don’t know the economic cost of the practice.
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Sub-Saharan Africa (Cipesa) which organizes the Fifafrica forum recently took an initiative to publish the first report on costing internet shutdowns in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the report falls short to give precise formulars that can be applied across the region. In the report, Cipesa reveals that it was just an attempt, but the economic cost of internet disruptions in Sub-Saharan Africa is not precisely known and its report only used borrowed formulas from beyond to try to quantify the cost.
Titled Calculating the Economic Impact on Internet Disruptions in Sub-Saharan Africa, the report published on Friday estimates that internet shutdowns by governments have so far cost sub-Saharan Africa an estimated $237 million since 2015. Ethiopia ranks high of the eight countries sampled with a $126 million loss followed by DRC and Cameroon at $39 million loss each. Other countries are Gabon ($10million), Republic of Congo ($2million), Niger ($1million), Togo ($1million) and Gambia ($160 000).
This year’s Fifafrica forum attracted internet experts from across the region and University of Malawi’s Chancellor College lecturer Jimmy Kainja represented Malawi as a panelists. He led a session on News content and responses to the “fake news” phenomenon in Africa.