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Growing the Internet 21 November 2017

Preparing for an Internet of Opportunities

Dawit Bekele’s Speech – AU Specialized Technical Committee

Delivery Date: 21 November 2017

It is an honor for the Internet Society to speak at this meeting of the African Union, an organization that has done so much to bring peace and prosperity for Africa in the last 54 years and that has great ambitions for the future of the continent as indicated in its Agenda 2063.

The Internet Society believes that the Internet can help the African Union to achieve its vision enshrined in this agenda as indicated in the following few example:

  • Many studies have showed that an increase internet penetration has a positive impact on the economy of the country. In particular, the 2016 World Develop Report of the World Bank found that an  increase of 10% in broadband penetration would increase GDP per capita growth by 0.9 to 1.5.
  • The Internet already brings people closer together, breaking down the tyranny of distance and making the vision of an integrated Africa more and more realistic.
  • The Internet has also helped improve good governance by forcing transparency and accountability to governments around the world.
  • By allowing virtually anybody to communicate with the rest of the world, it has empowered communities enabling them to grow their culture.

It’s true that Africa has missed a good part of the benefits of the Internet in the last three decades since very few of its population were connected. However, the next decades could be very different.

But it’s going to take all of our concerted efforts.

African governments and the African Union must rise together in order to shape tomorrow and ensure an Internet of greater opportunity for Africans.

I am glad to say that the Internet Society and the African Union are already working together in that direction.

  • We are collaborating in the African Internet Governance Forum for a multistakeholder discussion of Internet issues from around Africa.
  • We are working together to make sure that Africa has a secure Internet infrastructure that it can rely on, and users trust their hard-won connectivity to do things that change their life.
  • We are working together on the challenges the Governments and the operators have to bring continuous, unfettered and reliable connectivity.

Indeed, there is no better time to ask ourselves what each of us can do to use the Internet as a force for good.

A study on the Future of the Internet that the Internet Society recently published shows that this is a big moment for the Internet. People’s hopes and fears about its future are dividing us.

There is optimism for the future of the Internet. For instance:

  • The increasingly connected world will bring opportunities to emerging countries to grow their economy. I was amazed to hear about a call center in Dakar that provides accessibility information to people in Sweden, in Swedish. What’s extraordinary is that the call center operators have learned Swedish in Dakar and they have never been to Sweden.
  • Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things could solve some of the greatest challenges of our world. Artificial Intellengence might solve our educated human resource problem such as in the health or educational sector. IoT might help us use our ressources more efficiently by limiting wastages.

The same study also shows there is worry:

  • Potential fragmentation of the Internet due to the rise of nationalism. This would put in danger what the Internet has already achieved, bringing people closer together.
  • The increase of cyber-threats that is eroding the trust that we have on the Internet. Even Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things might bring our worst fears if we develop those technologies without taking into account the risks.

The study also gave a clear message:

It’s up to all of us – individuals, communities, companies and governments – to come together and show the Internet is a force for good. 

Africa missed previous revolutions since it was not in charge of its destinity. Today, more than ever, we have the chance to write our future and we should grab it.

Today about a third of Africans are connected and considering the rapid growth of Internet penetration, the majority of Africans will have access to the Internet in less than a decade.

Africa, can and should use on the Internet to reach its developmental goals more than ever before.

There’s no question that the Internet is one of the greatest inventions of our lifetime and can provide solutions to some of the world’s toughest challenges.

It can help do things like close the gender gap, build partnerships in unexpected places, and help more children go to school.

We have, in fact, recently released a paper to show the benefits the Internet can bring to education. It is just one of many the doors an open, global and secure Internet can open.

But if this great tool isn’t one we can trust; those doors will shut.

So, as we build the Internet, we cannot forget that it also needs to be secure and reliable.

Here is where we can act.

There is a real and urgent need to build security and resilience in African Internet infrastructure to support the burgeoning digital economy and society.

Earlier this year we introduced the Internet Infrastructure Security Guidelines for Africa. A first of their kind, these guidelines were developed by a multistakeholder group of African and global experts for Africa, with its recommended actions tailored to the African cyber security environment’s unique features and provide recommendations for:

  • Operators,
  • AU member States,
  • Network operators, and;
  • Organizations

Central to the Guidelines are the essential principles of Internet infrastructure security: Awareness, Responsibility, Cooperation, and adherence to Fundamental Rights and Internet Properties.

The recommendations are a first, but significant, step in producing a visible and positive change in the African Internet infrastructure security landscape.

These guidelines are also meant to facilitate the adoption of the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection.

We urge governments, companies, network operators, universities and organizations across AU member States to take action and endorse the Internet Infrastructure Security Guidelines for Africa.

Together we can shape tomorrow and create a future where the Internet brings opportunity to all of Africa.

Thank you.


For more information about the event, visit African Union Specialized Technical Committee (STC) on Communication and ICT event page.

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