This paper argues that the current attacks on Internet access in terms of legal constraints, political intimation, Internet shutdown, unlawful arrest of Internet users, and the purposeful disruption of Internet services by government agents will become more pronounced unless African nations technologically develop public institutions to compete constructively with private Internet service providers, in terms of information communication. The data utilized for this study were basically sourced from secondary data collection, and thus contently analyzed based on the nature and practical experience of how the access and the use of Internet has been hindered through undue intervention by governments in Africa. The paper also outlines a set of recommendations for improvement.
Keywords: Internet access, governance, sustainable development, Africa
The right to communicate in whatever forms has become part of basic international human right as endorsed by the UN General Assembly in December 1997. By implication the endorsement has committed the UN to ensure the objective of universal access to basic communication and information services for all people without any exception of race or regional locations in order to secure sustainable human development (CIPESA, 2016).
Similarly, the right to share, receive and seek information or ideas regardless of the medium used are enshrined in many international legal frameworks such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and in the constitutions of respective African countries (ibid). However, some of these national and international legal frameworks have been skewed by some African governments.
In essence, access to Internet has remained on the front burner in driving and sharing of ideas and information for good governance and development in the global system. According to Towela & Tesfaye (2015), the emergence of the global Internet can be linked to the US-based ARPANET in the 1960s; however, Africa gained access to its first Internet network in 1988 nearly thirty years after the US, at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. The first data packet transmitted from Africa was sent from South Africa to Portland, Oregon in 1991 which signified the arrival of the Internet in Africa and subsequently led to the surge of Internet Service Providers supplying both dial-up and leased Integrated Services Digital Network connections on a commercial basis.
As observed by Mike Jensen (1997) more than three-quarters of the capital cities in Africa have evolved some form of Internet access: either in terms of a local dial-up store-and-forward e-mail service with a gateway to the Internet or a full leased-line service. Notably, out of the 43 in the 54 counties in Africa, only 36 countries have attained live Internet public-access services in the capital cities that includes: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (ibid).
More importantly, Africa has seen the growth of Internet connectivity in recent years, mainly due to the availability of undersea cables and the ubiquity of mobile phones. More than a quarter of the African population (341 million) had access to the Internet as of 2016, the majority of which are potential Internet learners. To Alvin Toffler (1980), the Internet revolution has tremendously conditioned society into an 'infosphere' in which technology driven information and communication have increasingly changed the social, political, economic and work environments in the world. Toffler further stressed that to a large extent, the "infosphere", information has become the key resource for citizens' active and efficient functioning and participation in society.
However, despite the huge importance of Internet access as an enabling mechanism that fosters citizens' leverage to express their voice, to monitor and hold government accountable, and enter into informed dialogue about decisions which affect their lives without being directly exposed to government intimidation or danger. Internet accessibility as a percentage of the total population of Africa is still very low: as 2004 it was 1.4% when compared to the world average accessibility of 12.7% (Internet Worldstats.com, 2004). Apart from inadequate infrastructure like: electricity, the high cost of Internet services, the prevalence of poverty in Africa and phobia for negative consequences of Internet penetration, there are undue restriction, intervention, incessant attacks on the use of Internet and enactment of several obnoxious rules against Internet resources by some of African governments in the pretence of safeguarding national security, monitoring terrorism activities, preventing hate speech, cybercrime, and illicit financial crimes among others. The current trends of political and legal assaults by some African governments on Internet access/users if not quickly checked, represent a negative omen for sustainable development and good governance in Africa. In this light, this paper is divided into six sections for clarity of purpose and analytical discourse which includes: conceptual clarification, methodology, the emergence and surge of Internet in Africa, opportunities and challenges of Internet access for Africa, political and legal constraints to Internet access and the implication for sustainable development in Africa, with a conclusion and recommendations.
Over the years Internet access and information technology have been used interchangeably as if they connote similar definition. However, it worthy to note that Internet and information technology are more or less a conjoin twin which either of them cannot exist without the other. Conventionally, it is permissible to use both concepts interchangeably however a careful note must be drawn on their area of differences. According to Almond and Verba (1963) the Internet was describe as part of the online techniques with great democratic potential due to its capacity for feedback that encourages the development of "participant" citizens. Almond and Verba further stressed that with the existence of Internet, rather than acting as passive receptors of political information, participant citizens are more sophisticated and active with utilisation of political information made available by Internet and subsequently respond or make "demands" from such information.
The above definition is narrow in the sense that it focused more on the political benefit of the Internet rather than the actual context of it. In a more succinct manner, Internet access can be describe as the leverage of individuals and organisations to link-up to the Internet using computer terminals, computers and mobile devices with an ability to access services such as email and the World Wide Web through information technology. According to the Advance English Dictionary, the Internet is a computer network consisting of a worldwide network of computer networks that use the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) network to facilitate data transmission and exchange.
The Internet, sometimes simply called "the Net," is a worldwide system of computer networks - a network of networks in which users at any one computer can, if they have permission, get information from any other computer (and sometimes talk directly to users at other computers). It was conceived by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the U.S. government in 1969 and was first known as the ARPANet.
In the contemporary global system, the Internet has permeated the public space and is fast becoming self-sustaining tools accessible to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Generally speaking, access to the Internet has become more predominant through the use of electronic mail (email) which is gradually replacing the traditional postal service which has become a common practice for people to communicate over the Internet in through several means including Internet Relay Chat (ICR), Internet telephony, instant messaging, Youtube streaming, video chat, WhatsApp, Snap chat, Facebook, google-hangout, yahoo messenger, Instagram, blogging, and through other social media plat forms (http://searchwindevelopment.techtarget.com/definition/Internet).
There are other aspects of the Internet that also deserve attention, particular a high-capacity transmission technique to engage a wide range of frequencies to enable a large number of messages to be communicated simultaneously, i.e., broadband. The United States Federal Communications Commission (August 6, 2010) simply defined broadband Internet as "Internet access that is always on, and faster than the traditional dial-up access" and spread over a wide range of technologies. Broadband connections are typically made using a computer's built in Ethernet networking capabilities, or by using a Network Interface Card (NIC). Similarly, Dale Hatfield, el at. (2001) stressed that in terms of transmission rates, define broadband as having the capability of supporting provider-to-consumer (downstream) and the consumer-to-provider (upstream) directions at a speed in excess of 200 kbps, with most cable and DSL service packages are asymmetric with the downstream speed faster than the upstream.
It has become pertinent to provide some definition of information technology as its relevance continues to surface from the definition of Internet access given above. According to Microsoft - Encarta (2009) information technology represents the processing and distribution of data using computer hardware and software, telecommunications, and digital...