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There’s growing concern about the price Africa will pay for internet shutdowns and fake news

EPA/Will Oliver

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ABDI LATIF DAHIR

The internet has been lauded as a panacea for Africa—a tool for economic, political and social transformation. The availability of mobile broadband and fiber optic connections has been hailed for enabling e-commerce and spurring innovative industries in education, health, insurance, and beyond. Lower smartphone prices are also driving a digital revolution across the continent, allowing more people to access the internet at unprecedented levels.

But Sudanese-British billionaire and businessman Mohammed Ibrahim now says that internet shutdowns and the spread of fake news on social media threaten the continent’s digital development. In an interview with Quartz, Ibrahim lamented how governments continue to frequently block the internet and social media outlets—including as recently as last week during Somaliland’s presidential elections.

“Closing down of the internet is really a crime. And that should not be tolerated,” Ibrahim said, specifically mentioning the 93-day blackoutthis year in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions. “To try to gag the people and silence them is not appropriate really. It’s not acceptable.”

Ibrahim was the founder of Celtel International, one of the first mobile phone companies serving Africa and the Middle East. He later sold it to the Kuwait-based Mobile Telecommunications Company—now Zain. Ibrahim spoke to Quartz after the launch of the 2017 Mo Ibrahim Index, which ranks African countries on a broad spectrum of indicators including rule of law, safety economic, political and human rights.

“Are we producing people from our education systems who are able to build dams, grids, roads, factories and get into IT services?”

Ibrahim also bemoaned the dissemination of so called fake news and misinformation online, and how they are used to meddle in elections. As seen in Kenya, where Facebook and WhatsApp were being used concertedlyto spread misinformation and to sway public opinion in the run-up to the election this year.

“We need to be careful about [the] use of social media,” said Ibrahim. “We’ve seen all these abuses elsewhere and we hope to get the benefits of social media without the perils and inappropriate use that this media has produced elsewhere.”

Earlier this month, Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka also expressed grave concern about the role of fake news and social media in society.

Against the retreading or slowing political and economic reality in Africa, the Index shows a decade of consistent growth when it comes to digital technology and infrastructure. Ibrahim noted that there needs to be increased financing of the sector by angel investors, venture capitalists, and private equity funds in order to catalyze the internet’s contribution to the overall gross domestic product or iGDP. Education systems should also be improved in order to bridge the gap of education to skills mismatch, he said, which leaves many young people unemployed and lures them to migrate or even join terrorist organizations.

“Are we producing people from our education systems who are able to build dams, electric grids, build roads, factories and get into the IT services?” Ibrahim asked. “These are huge areas where we lack skilled people, and we need to deal with that.”

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Car Bomb Kills Journalist in Somalia Capital, Says Witness

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A Somali journalist has been killed by a car bomb in the capital late Monday, says a fellow journalist.

Mohamed Ibrahim, a news presenter for Kalsan TV, died at a hospital after being injured by a bomb concealed in his car in Mogadishu’s Wadajir district, said Ahmed Mohamed, who works for the same broadcaster.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries for media workers. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 59 journalists have been killed since 1992, soon after a civil war began in this Horn of Africa nation. The deadliest year was 2012 when 18 journalists were killed.

It is believed that over the years several different groups have killed the journalists, including the Islamic extremist rebels of Al-Shabab, Somali warlords, criminals and possibly government agents.

Somali journalists frequently receive threats. But police rarely investigate the threats or murders or adequately protect reporters. Only one person has been convicted of killing a journalist and he was executed last year.

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Detained Ugandan Journalists Charged with Libel, Other Offenses

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Uganda on Monday charged eight managers and editors of a daily newspaper with several offenses including libel and computer misuse and a court ordered them detained until Dec. 5.

The journalists have been in detention for nearly a week after police raided the premises of Red Pepper, accusing them of publishing a false story.

Police had said on Nov. 23 that they had preferred several charges including treason against the journalists. Their lawyer, Maxma Mutabingwa, said that when they appeared in court for the first time on Monday, treason was not among the offenses read out to them.

Instead they were charged with several counts of libel, offensive communication and publication of information prejudicial to security.

“I think police backed off the treason charge because it was ridiculous, it was not sustainable at all,” he told Reuters.

The journalists applied for bail but the state prosecutor said he needed time to respond and court adjourned the proceedings to Dec. 5.

The raid on the paper followed publication of a story that, citing unnamed sources, said that Rwanda believed Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was plotting to oust its leader, Paul Kagame.

The paper has a wide readership and often regales its audience with a surfeit of salacious content about private lives of political and business officials and celebrities.

In recent years, it has moved to include more political coverage and has sometimes irked authorities with audacious headlines on security, diplomacy and power maneuvers in the government of President Yoweri Museveni.

Police have kept the media outlet’s premises cordoned off. It has not published the daily since the raid. Computers, phones and other equipment confiscated during the search have also not been returned, Mutabingwa said.

Rights groups and journalists have complained of escalating harassment and intimidation of independent media by security personnel in the East African country, especially as Museveni faces growing opposition pressure to end his rule.

Local media, including Red Pepper, have reported this month on tensions between Uganda and neighboring Rwanda over a range of economic and security disputes, but Uganda’s foreign affairs ministry has dismissed the reports as rumors.

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ILO rules in favour of Somali journalists’ trade union

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The International Labour Organisation has ruled against Somalia in a case brought against it by trade unions in the country over infringement of freedom of association.

The ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association asked the federal government to institute “independent judicial inquiries” for serious violations of freedom of association and persecution of trade unions, identify those responsible, punish the guilty, and prevent repetition of such acts.

“The committee urges the government to provide without delay full explanations on the reasons for the arrest on October 15, 2016, of Mr Abdi Adan Guled, vice-president of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ),” the ruling said.

The committee also asked the government to “provide information on the outcome of the investigation into the assassination of Abdiasis Mohamed Ali, a member of NUSOJ.”

Mr Ali, who worked for Radio Shabelle and Shabelle Media Network, was assassinated in September last year in the capital Mogadishu.

The committee’s directive was part of a ruling on a case filed by the Federation of Somali Trade Unions, NUSOJ and the International Trade Union Confederation against the Somali government.

The three accused the government of “serious threats, acts of intimidation and reprisals against members and leaders of the NUSOJ and the lack of adequate responses by the Federal Government of Somalia.”

This year’s recommendations follow similar directives issued last year, which trade unions claim, the government ignored.

The unions accused the government of meddling in their internal matters by creating parallel executive committees.

The government denied the plaint, and told the UN labour body that it was seeking to resolve political differences between the union federation and policymakers.

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