OPINION: Splinternet: Is Africa ready for the future of internet?
Opinion / 15 February 2019, 4:30pm / Wesley Diphoko
CAPE TOWN - The executive chairperson of Alphabet (Google parent company) predicted in 2013, via his book, The New Digital Age, that in future the internet would be less global.
He predicted that the internet would be divided into different continents. This division of the internet into different parts is referred to as the Splinternet. It is a fractured web, where the global internet has been consigned to the dustbin of history in favour of regional, or national intranets, in the name of cyber-sovereignty and security.
At the time such predictions sounded ridiculous for most parts of the world. China has always been known as one part of the world that has its own internet. Now this prediction is slowly becoming a reality based on reports by ZDNet about Russia and internet.
The report this week has suggested that Russia is going to disconnect itself from the global internet, temporarily. This will be done as part of a test during the next month.
This is also done to provide feedback to a Russian law that was passed towards the end of last year.
The law mandated that Russian internet service providers could ensure the independence of Russia’s internet in case the government needed to pull out of the global internet. Cyberattacks may be the main inspiration for such a move.
Russia will be the second BRICS country to consider independence from the global internet. In doing so, it will also be in keeping with the BRICS Cable vision.
BRICS Cable was first announced in 2013 by then Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. She indicated that the initiative would focus on building BRICS' own high-speed Internet free of US influence.
The plan by Russia to temporarily cut itself from the global internet is an indication that the Splinternet is closer than many thought. Would this happen on the African continent? The circumstances that will lead to Splinternet will be about protecting sovereignty and not leisure.
In the book, The New Digital Age, Eric Schmidt and his co-author Jared Cohen predict that governments will feel as if they are fighting a losing battle against an endlessly replicating and changing internet and balkanisation (Splinternet) will emerge as a popular mechanism to address this challenge.
There are positive and negative views about the Splinternet and both are worthy of consideration. When circumstances force Africa to consider its own internet, this will give rise to African developed tech platforms.
The possibility of a Splinternet should inspire African technology companies to plan for a future without foreign technology platforms.
In China, the closed internet has given rise to Chinese technology giants. China would not have created its own technology platforms and products if it had allowed foreign technology companies to dominate their market.
Today, China has a version of every tech platform that exists in US and Europe. The same cannot be said about Africa. To change this situation will require African tech leaders to collaborate more and work with one vision to create the technology for the African continent.
The current leading African tech eco-systems, Kenyan, Nigerian and South African systems, would have to find a way of working together to develop a road map.
The AU as well should place Splinternet on top of their agenda and deliberate about how Africa can respond to this possibility.
There should be an African road map about technology in Africa that has no foreign technology solutions.
This should be done not out of pride, but for Africa’s sovereignty and security in future to avoid being recolonised.
Wesley Diphoko is editor-in-chief of The Infonomist and founder of Kaya Labs. You can follow him on Twitter via: @WesleyDiphoko