Africa and the Internet of Things

Published on 15th May 2018

Internet Society has been working for the last 26 years for an Internet that is open, globally connected, and secure. It is also the organizational home of the IETF, the organization that develops the technical standards that make the Internet work. It currently has 133 Chapters and special interest groups around the world amongst which 34 are in Africa including one in Senegal. The Senegalese chapter is not only one of the oldest but also one of the most effective in contributing for the advancement of Internet Society’s mission and vision at national level.

We are at a watershed moment for Africa as far as the Internet is concerned and it is critical that we are all conscious about that. Africa has experienced tremendous growth in Internet access and usage over the past few years, thanks to the collaboration across its technical and Internet communities. Africa is well positioned to take advantage of the social and economic opportunities that the Internet can bring to its citizens. Africa has a very young population that needs education, work and much more and the Internet can help bring all of that, probably more than any other technology or sector.

But to create a future where the Internet is for the good of all people, it must be shaped by diversity, inclusion and equality. In today’s world, these values are being questioned. The notion that it’s safer to build a future apart than together seems to lead many of the world’s stories.

But at the Internet Society we believe we’re better together instead of apart. When people come together and share ideas then, if we all listen, we can make sure we have open, globally connected, and secure Internet for every African to benefit from.

Every day we hear events that erode the trust of users. Large scale data breaches, uncertainties about how our data is being used, cybercrime, surveillance, shutdowns and other online threats are impacting Internet users’ trust, how they use the Internet, and are hindering Internet adoption.

With Internet of Things or IoT, the Internet is getting everywhere, including in our houses, our cars or even in what we wear and our bodies with so many useful applications such as smart houses, driverless cars, health monitoring applications. But as much as this is a great opportunity, we are also seeing that there are major concerns from users with regards to their security and privacy. As much as we want our doctor or an Intelligent System to follow our blood sugar level in real time in order to prevent that we have a medical emergency, we do not want hackers to create a medical emergency using the same devices. This means we have to work on IoT security and privacy since we cannot afford that billions of unsecure devices to invade our countries before we think about their security.

We also have to ensure that our Internet Infrastructure is secure. This is a daunting task that cannot be done by just one actor. This is why the Internet Society is working with the African Union Commission to implement the African Union Cybersecurity and personal data protection convention at national and regional level with all concerned actors.

As Internet becomes a critical infrastructure, government has great responsibility to secure it, the same way it needs to secure its roads, its airports, etc. However, governments alone cannot create a more trusted Internet. Similarly, businesses alone cannot create a more trusted Internet. The technical community alone cannot create a more trusted Internet. We must work in a collaborative way when finding solutions to things like attacks, cyber threats, and other things that are putting personal safety and security at risk.

The Internet Society has a joint initiative with the African Union, the African Privacy and Personal Data Protection Guidelines for Africa. The guidelines were created with contributions from regional and global privacy experts, including industry privacy specialists, academics and civil society groups.  Importantly, they represent what’s possible when diverse voices make it to the table.

It’s what we call the multistakeholder model in action. It’s an inclusive process that is a testament to the fact that we’re all better when different people, often with different backgrounds, can come together with a common goal. It’s process we believe deeply in. These guidelines are an excellent example why.

Finally, we know that the future is full of challenges. But we cannot turn the clock back. The use of data will continue to divide regulators and businesses, governments will continue to seek a more assertive role in the governance of the Internet and technology will continue to push the boundaries of accepted normative standards. Regrettably, bad actors will continue to attempt to hijack the very nature of the Internet to cause harm where it was designed to help.

Despite this reality, we need to look forward to the possibilities that the Internet has yet to bring. For me, and for the Internet Society, the promise the Internet held 26 years ago still holds true. We continue to believe and advocate for the benefits it brings, its ability to inspire and its capacity to change people’s lives.

Africa represents dynamic change, new ideas, and the next generation of leaders. An Internet that includes Africa means an Internet that exists for the good of all people. One that is shaped by diversity, inclusion, and equal voices.  Let’s show the world exactly what we mean when we say we believe in an Internet that includes everyone.

The future of the Internet is unwritten, but full of endless opportunity. Join us in sending the message that we’re ALL better together. Your voice counts. Let’s make sure Africa is heard as we work together to shape tomorrow.

By Dawit Bekele,

Regional Bureau Director for Africa, Internet Society.

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