Africa must rise or risk being world’s doormat

Wednesday October 13 2021
Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Logos of US social networks Facebook, Instagram and mobile messaging service WhatsApp on the screens of a smartphone and a tablet. The world of social media was paralysed for six hours on October 4 as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram went offline, revealing a clear and present danger to the world. PHOTO | LIONEL BONAVENTURE | AFP


The world of social media was paralysed for six hours on October 4 as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram went offline, revealing a clear and present danger to the world.

I have called this digital colonisation, unlike conventional colonisation where strong nations overran weak ones and made the vanquished their subjects. Digital colonisation, in contrast, is driven by individuals and their companies.

As a firm believer in creativity, innovation and free markets, I oppose people being penalised for their creativity. After all, thinking is free.

Everyone has liberty to access and implement ideas. A time, however, comes when a conversation is needed; at what point does an individual’s creativity and innovation become a threat?

Donald Trump was president of the United States and therefore, holder of an office/title of most powerful person on the Earth. Does that still hold water when platforms like Twitter and Facebook had power to switch off the voice of such a president?

One can argue that if Trump’s voice had not occasionally been “cut off”, it posed a threat to national security, such as when his diehard supporters stormed the US Capitol building. The unstated fact, however, is that whoever can shut off the voice of the most powerful man in the world is in effect more powerful. Right?


But Australia, a classic David versus Goliath story played out. The Goliath turned out again to be Facebook while the land Down Under became the David.

Legislation was proposed to compel social media platforms to pay for news content on their sites. Facebook was unhappy and a back-and-forth ensued.

And one day, Facebook, as one news outlet put it, shot the hostages. Yes. Facebook pulled down all news-related matters on its site. News providers, some Australian government departments and emergency services pages and many others were affected.

Facebook later agreed to restore Australian news pages after the government offered amendments to the legislation.

It is no conspiracy theory but a fact in plain sight that the world is controlled by big tech firms — leaving Africa more when they speak out, the world listens.

This is the role data and new media play in today’s world and Africa has no band playing in this space. This is the turf where we will regain our voice and can truly protect our dignity as Africans. If the companies we pride ourselves in as our innovations still have their technological backbone in Europe and the US then we need to literally begin to develop our own backbone.

Only using our own platforms can we tell our stories like we want them told and can truly leverage the power of our populations. On October 31, 1959, western Nigeria Television was launched, a first in Africa. It gave the right kind of exposure to western Nigeria and a platform to tell our own stories. It was the launch-pad for local content and a voice no one could shut.

Western Nigeria had so many firsts that the Saudi royal family used to go there in the 1960s for treatment at the University College Hospital in Ibadan.

Only when Africans get full control of their own platforms, can they stand on the same to tell their stories, fully guaranteed that they will not be distorted or voices cut off altogether. Only then can Africans truly row their own boat.

Wale Akinyemi is convenor of The Street University ( and chief transformation officer, Power - Talks; [email protected]