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.”
Somali journalist arrested, held without charge
Nairobi, February 09, 2018–Somali authorities should immediately release Sabir Abdulkadir Warsame, a broadcast journalist with the privately owned Somali Cable TV, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Sabir was arrested by regional security forces in the semi-autonomous state of Jubbaland on February 8 and has been held without charge in the state capital of Kismayo, according to a report by the Voice of America and Hassan Adde, general director of Somali Cable TV who spoke to CPJ.
Hassan told CPJ that, at the time of his arrest, Sabir was interviewing members of the public about the first anniversary of the election of Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo).
“Arresting and detaining Sabir Abdulkadir for simply doing his job as a journalist is outrageous,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal in New York. “He should be immediately released without charge and free to continue reporting in the public interest.”
Speaking to CPJ through a translator, Jubbaland information minister Abdinur Ali Adan said that he had been informed of Sabir’s arrest. He said that the journalist was in “safe hands” and would be produced in court tomorrow morning, though he said he did not have more information about the court proceedings.
While shooting the interviews, the journalist unintentionally filmed a vehicle carrying charcoal, triggering his arrest, according to Sabir’s colleague who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Charcoal export from Somalia is illegal, according to a 2012 UN Security Council resolution aimed at cutting funding for al-Shabaab.
Hassan told CPJ that he did not know that the journalist had captured any footage of a vehicle ferrying charcoal.
Kenya Crackdown on Media, Opposition Deepens
WALL STREET JOURNAL — NAIROBI, Kenya—A standoff between Kenya’s government and the opposition has escalated, as a crackdown on the media deepens and police arrest several top opposition figures.
The political battle highlights how the fraught election in east Africa’s economic powerhouse and freest country is reverberating months later. The media has become collateral damage, as broadcasters forced off the air this week for transmitting an opposition event remained blocked despite a court order to reinstate them.
Western diplomats in Nairobi with knowledge of the situation said arrests of opposition figures could continue, and opposition leader Raila Odinga, a veteran firebrand revered by his supporters in the country’s West and coastal areas, could also be a target.
Mr. Odinga has refused to concede to President Uhuru Kenyatta after two elections plagued by procedural problems and scattered violence.
“While we were hoping that the country, after a bruising election season, could pull together, that seems a lost hope,” Murithi Mutiga, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said.
The opposition leader went ahead Tuesday with a symbolic “swearing in” ceremony at Nairobi’s central Uhuru Park despite government warnings that the move would be treason. In front of thousands of his supporters, Mr. Odinga declared himself “the people’s president,” in a move criticized by the U.S. and the African Union as unconstitutional and inflammatory.
The government designated Mr. Odinga’s political movement a “criminal organization,” though it said the political parties in the opposition coalition are not affected. A lawyer who was present at the “swearing in” alongside Mr Odinga was arrested Friday, after another lawyer and an opposition parliamentarian were taken into custody earlier in the week.
The government has blocked Kenya’s three main TV stations from broadcasting, saying that by airing the mock inauguration they were complicit in a plot that could have cost the lives of “thousands of Kenyans.” It offered no evidence to support its claims.
A judge on Thursday ordered the government to allow them to broadcast until their case challenging their shutdown goes ahead. The ruling was delayed by procedural obstacles but eventually served Friday, though the networks remained off air.
Heather Nauert, the spokesperson for the State Department, said the U.S. was “deeply concerned by the government’s action to shut down, intimidate, and restrict the media.”
Kenya’s relative press freedom, among other things, has distinguished it from many of its neighbors, Mr. Muriga noted.
“This is what sets the country apart from others on the continent, and as a consequence Kenya has become a hub for innovation and is regarded as a bellwether for other African democracies,” he said.
While the crackdown on the press and the arrests of opposition figures are garnering the government criticism, the opposition is looking weakened and fragmented, Mr. Muriga said.
Mr. Odinga lost an election in August last year, but the vote was annulled by the Kenyan Supreme Court on the grounds of wide-spread irregularities during tallying and transmission of the results. A second, repeat vote was held in late October; Mr. Odinga and his NASA coalition party boycotted that election, partly contributing to a very poor turnout of just over 30%.
Mr. Kenyatta won with 98% of the vote and was inaugurated for a second five-year term in November last year.
Tensions High in Kenya Amid Media Ban, Opposition Arrest
NAIROBI — Political tensions continue to rise in Kenya as the government defied a court order to lift a ban on three independent media organizations. Authorities also arrested a key opposition ally in the wake of Raila Odinga’s self-inauguration Tuesday as the so-called “people’s president.”
Kenya’s three largest broadcasters remained off the air for a fourth day Friday despite the high court ruling the day before that the government must reverse the suspension. Authorities cut transmission for the media outlets Tuesday as they prepared live coverage of the opposition’s swearing-in event.
The Kenyan human rights activist behind the legal challenge, Okiya Omtata, attempted to serve the court papers to the government’s Communications Authority Friday.
“I was personally marked,” he told VOA, “and I was not allowed past the gate. I was told that they had instruction from above not to be allowed past the gate, nor the court order to be served. So what I did is I pinned it on the wall — a copy of the order, but they ripped it off.”
Omtata said he has no choice but to bring the matter back to the court Monday.
“It now clarifies issues for me,” he said. “Now I know what we are dealing with is not a failure to comprehend the law, but a deliberate move by the government to violate the Bill of Rights and the constitution of Kenya and to operate outside the consent of the law.”
The Communications Authority has not commented on the ban. Omtata said he was able to serve the remaining court papers addressed to the attorney general, interior minister, and minister of information, communication and technology.
The ruling Jubilee administration accuses the media of failing to heed its advice not to air Tuesday’ opposition swearing-in. In a statement released Wednesday, the day before the high court’s ruling, Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i said the stations will remain shut throughout ongoing investigations into alleged complicity in what he called an effort to subvert the government and spark violence.
In a statement Thursday, the U.S. State Department grave concern over what U.S. officials called “the government’s action to shut down, intimidate, and restrict the media” and Odinga’s self-inauguration.
Odinga has refused to accept the results of an October presidential run-off, which he boycotted. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner.
Murithi Mutiga, the International Crisis Group’s Kenya researcher, says the spat between the Kenyatta administration and the media will go on.
“He came to office and seems to have an axe to grind with the key element of the society including the media and civil society and that has continued and persisted,” said Mutiga. “We’ve seen media houses being denied advertising, which is a crucial source of revenue. We’ve seen continued attempts to legislate against the media. So I think, I think it will continue, they will continue to be a push and pull between the administration and the media.”
President Kenyatta gave a televised speech at the Kenya School of Government Friday. At the end, he gestured to the journalists, saying in Swahili, “Now why don’t you switch off your things, pack and go? Your work is over.”