• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

African digital sovereignty: Threats and remedies (3)

The digital landscape and e-governance in Nigeria

Tech rules should be global and fair

The global nature of digital technologies require their governance to be similarly global. Currently, there is a lack of coordination or coherence, as different jurisdictions enact digital governance laws to suit their particular exigencies. And even as countries have been reluctant to join global initiatives, the imperative for a global framework is writ large. Still, there is a risk that such global rules might fail to put into consideration the unique deficiencies and vulnerabilities of poor countries, especially African ones.

To advance this global necessity, these considerations must be borne in mind. The US-led “Declaration for the Future of the Internet” in April 2022, which has Cabo Verde, Kenya and Niger, as the only African signatories thus far, is a good start, at least, as it commits to promoting and sustaining an Internet that is “open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure.”

A Digital Stability Board (DSB) under the aegis of the G20, in the mould of the Financial Stability Board (FSB) it created during the global financial crisis, has also been suggested. As a minimum, the DSB will coordinate the myriad digital governance standards initiatives across the world into a more coherent global whole that engenders the G20’s goal of digital trust (Fay & Medhora, 2021).

The growing trend of “technology solutionism” for Africa’s many developmental needs should also not become the means by which they are worsened

Several proposals for global tech governance are afoot, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic made writ large the many weaknesses of the currently disparate systems and frameworks spread across the globe and the myriad gaps in them still. Suspicions about the motivations of these global digital governance initiatives remain, especially as they tend to support the entrenchment of the current western hegemony of the global digital economy.

The American-led Future of the Internet declaration was initially proposed as a global alliance motivated by a desire to rein in China’s Huawei and other similarly Chinese-backed tech firms, for instance, but was later redesigned as a universal declaration after much criticism.

This is not entirely without justification. China represents an emerging authoritarian vision of global digital governance that is as robust in its coherence as much as its repressive outlook, whereas the currently unwieldy liberal democratic ideal, the European GPDR, for instance, increasingly fails in its mission precisely because of a lack of global consensus. A global digital governance framework must not only be integrated and coherent but also be backed by a global multi-stakeholder and consensus approach to be effective.

Read also: African digital sovereignty: Threats and remedies (2)

Critically, these global mechanisms must not exacerbate the inequalities in African countries that digitalization is helping to reduce, from financial inclusion to digital commerce, but which it is now increasingly widening owing to digital colonialism. To ensure fairness and equity, the supposed weak link that most African countries are in the global economy, being as many continue to suffer myriad socioeconomic and political deficiencies, must be the anchor for global tech governance. Thus, the growing trend of “technology solutionism” for Africa’s many developmental needs should also not become the means by which they are worsened (Sambuli, 2022).

Global digital public goods must not be commercialised in any form or manner, for instance, nor should they be restrictive owing to language, content or infrastructure requirements (United Nations, 2020). They must be available where the people who need them the most live, at prices that are affordable, with users empowered with the knowledge of their utility for improving their lives and the requisite skills needed to maximise their benefits.

Conclusion

African countries have been slow to catch up to the risks to their sovereignty from digital technologies that are in the overwhelming control of firms from rich countries, especially the west. While digital governance laws have underwhelmed in a couple of African countries, they could still be effective if well-designed. A globalised effort is a prerequisite for effective global digital governance. Unfortunately, proposed initiatives tend to be motivated by the security and geopolitical goals of rich countries, at the expense of those of poor countries, especially African ones. Technologically-disadvantaged countries must be the anchor of global digital governance initiatives to ensure equity and fairness.

An edited version was first published by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies in Milan, Italy. References, figures and tables are in the original article. See link viz. https://www.ispionline.it/en/pubblicazione/digitalisation-sustainable-infrastructure-road-ahead-36357