How did East Africa get booted off the face of the digital sphere?

Saturday May 18 2024

There are countries that consider the internet a utility. I have heard voices here and there advocating its provision as a right. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


There was something quite apropos about trying to find out why the internet was down for a couple of days this past week while using the internet.

Contradiction is the African way! In event, this worked. Within 24 hours, service is mostly back and it seems we know why it went down.

This was plenty of time to contemplate what life would be like without the internet.

There are countries that consider the internet a utility. I have heard voices here and there advocating its provision as a right. That seems so… optimistic. I mean, I agree with the idea. This is the Age of Information, as information is increasingly central to how we can negotiate our wellbeing in the modern world.

I am just wrapping my mind around that fact that this has come to us in Tanzania, complete with all its issues of inequality. Some of us were nearly crippled by the outage, some of us have no idea what the big deal is. I noticed that those of us with an internet habit had a lot to say about whether or not this outage was the result of some nefarious activity. Conspiracy theories are the African way!

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This inequality bothers me. Let’s look at the usual utilities: Clean, piped water, electricity. I would search out some statistics for you but the internet is down, so let’s agree that I am probably right when I say that access to these services does not extend to everyone in Tanzania.

I would say maybe 25 percent of the fault lies with material poverty, and 75 percent of the blame goes to the government, which has been in power for over six decades.

Now, we want to add a technologically complex utility — internet availability — to the list of services this government must provide? We might as well invest in a space programme while we are daydreaming with our eyes open.

Nonetheless, I want to advocate the provision of the internet as a utility, in Tanzania — one of the poorer countries in the world. I want to do this because I grew up with the internet and I approve of, and appreciate, its power to disrupt the old ways and usher in new ways of thriving in society.

There are people who have been donating computers to schools for decades, hoping that when the internet comes students will finally have access to a world’s wealth of information. There are educators from all walks of life who have made knowledge accessible to the masses in STEM, social sciences, the humanities and the arts.

There are movements and classes of society who have been able to use the internet generally and social media specifically to confront power imbalances, between the young and the old, the occupied and the occupiers, the oligarchs and the dreamers. If this is what comes down the pipeline, of course, I want the internet as a right for fellow Tanzanians.

The potential that comes with it is potent. Which means confronting the fragility of this connection we have to have the global hive mind in the first place, and this begs the question that was on everyone’s lips: How did East Africa, Tanzania get booted off the face of the digital sphere in the first place? What was that about? Maybe our tendency to conspiracy theory comes from a place of wise suspicion after all.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]