6 Ways Kenya is Closing the Internet Connectivity Gap
Access to the internet has come a long way in Kenya since its adoption in 1993. The first internet users in Kenya were nonprofits, international organizations and multinational companies. In 2000, there were a total of 200,000 users, only 0.7 percent of the general population. A gap in accessibility persisted between these organizations and the remote, urban poor. Today, not only are all government ministries now accessible via the web, but 89.7 percent of the population regularly uses the internet as of June 2019. Better access to data translates to better education and standard of living. Kenya achieved this dramatic increase in accessibility thanks to a number of government and business initiatives. Here are six initiatives that have helped close the internet connectivity gap in Kenya.

6 Ways Kenya is Closing the Internet Connectivity Gap

  1. The Communications Authority of Kenya: To commercialize the internet, the Kenyan Government created the Communications Authority (CA) of Kenya in 1998. Its charge was to develop licensing for systems and services in communications and telecommunications, electrical engineering, broadcasting, e-commerce, cyber-security, multimedia as well as postal services.
  2. The Universal Service Fund: In 2009, the CA established the Universal Service Fund, which was designed to propagate access to information and communication technology (ICT) throughout the country. The fund has helped finance ambitious initiatives and innovation ICT through license levies, government appropriations, grants and donations. National projects continue to be enacted to expand services to remote and urban poor.
  3. Cyber Cafes and English: A challenge in making internet more commercial in Kenya was the lack of technology, electricity and landlines in the hands of average people. With the expansion of internet shops in the past two decades, urban centers have offered more access to technology without directly purchasing access from providers. A significant catalyst for greater usage has also been the English language since English is the official language of Kenya.
  4. Mobile Network Signals: Data from a CA report covering July to September 2019 shows that mobile phone users are purchasing more than one SIM card in order to gain access to new services and products, thereby increasing overall mobile subscriptions among the population. During that period of time, subscriptions increased 4.1 percent from the previous quarter.
  5. Fiber Optic Cables: In order to support a more robust data infrastructure and increase internet access in Kenya, companies like Telkom have expanded undersea fiber optic cables, known as “backbones,” that hold together multiple company networks to build capacity and expand regional access. If one line fails, the backbone is able to reroute internet traffic.
  6. Public Wifi Zones: In 2019, telecommunication companies like Telkom Enterprise, Safaricom and Poa! introduced WiFi zones in urban centers, offering wifi access either free or reduced in cost. In partnership with Nairobi County, the Link Kenya Project was developed by Telkom in Nairobi to help close the internet connectivity gap by providing free wireless internet access to three major urban centers in Nairobi. Project “innovation hubs” include 55-inch LCD displays that show ads in order to pay for support. Telkom aims to bring free public WiFi access to most major cities and towns in Kenya, claiming that portions of the population were unable to purchase subscriptions due to high costs.

Kenya’s agenda to digitize the country and economy were spurred in part by the government’s investment in information technology and communication technology in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, commercial access to the internet ballooned through government investment, the spread of mobile technology and technological innovations of private companies. Although not yet at 100 percent coverage, these six initiatives to close the internet connectivity gap in Kenya demonstrate how a country can leap into the digital age when government and business work in tandem.

Caleb Cummings
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Internet Access Helps Impoverished Nations
As of 2018, 4.1 billion people currently have internet access. This is roughly 95 percent of the world’s 7.1 million population. According to a data graph constructed by Our World in Data, the majority of this internet access is in North America and Asia. Comparatively, on average only about 20 percent of the population of Africa has internet access. Meanwhile, over 60 percent of India’s population lives under the poverty line and only 26 percent of the country’s population has internet access. Internet access can help impoverished nations, though, which is why there are efforts to bring it to places it is not available currently.

Connecting the Globe

Providing a country with internet access is more than just access to the internet. It is also about global connections. Internet.org is an organization that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg created, which explains that the internet should be a global right. This is due to the wealth of information that the internet contains. Global Citizen also asserts that if Africa had access to the information that the internet provided, it may be able to jumpstart its infrastructure.

Causes of Lack of Internet Access

Weform.org explains the following reasons for lack of internet access across the world:

  • Countries do not have the proper infrastructure to provide their people with an internet connection. According to the United Nations (U.N.), however, the establishment of 3G networks could be one effort toward improvement.
  • A 3G network currently covers only 60 percent of the world. By 2020, the U.N. expects that 97 percent of the world will have full 3G coverage.

  • Cost is also a major factor because 13 percent of the world’s population currently lives under the poverty line.

  • People in these countries do not always have the skills necessary to properly use the internet. Also, 13 percent of the global population is illiterate.

  • Eighty percent of internet content is only available in 10 different languages and less than half of the global population speaks these languages.

Looking Toward the Future

Internet access can help impoverished nations see major improvements. Google created a network of free Wi-Fi hotspots across the country of Nigeria in 2018. Global Citizen estimated that this could generate $300 billion for Africa’s total GDP by 2025. The Nigerian government is taking notice of the efforts led by Google. President Yemi Osinbajo visited Silicon Valley in 2018 and attended the launch of the Google hotspots, according to Global Citizen. This shows that an increase in technology not only improves conditions for a nation’s people but can also help local governments understand how internet access can reduce poverty.

Another way internet access can reduce poverty is by providing support for those suffering from poverty. Telecommunications company Vodafone launched Vodafone’s Farmers’ Club. Esoko states that the organization provides over 1 million farmers with phones. This allows access to numerous services including farming tips, weather updates and nutrition tips. According to Dela A. Kumahor, who served as a design expert on the project, research showed that farmers often feel restricted by their low amount of technology literacy and lack of business sense. According to The Guardian, Vodafone has done the research to show that mobile-focused agricultural services could lead to a $34 billion increase in 26 different markets by 2020. The service has also rolled out in Turkey, where 500,000 farmers have signed onto the project. This has led to a $100 million increase in farmer productivity.

Internet access can help impoverished nations that need relief. The internet provides jobs, services and connections that allow people, governments and industries the opportunity to help their countries fight global poverty. Improving agriculture and providing services are just two of the ways that internet access can reduce poverty.

– Jacob Creswell
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Africa
World hunger has been on the rise for the third year in a row, with nearly 10 million more people without enough food to survive on. Hunger in Africa is especially prevalent, where over 25 percent of the population suffers from some form of food insecurity.

There are many factors that play a role in why some areas of Africa suffer from food insecurity. While poverty is a key factor, environmental issues such as drought, desertification, overpopulation and ongoing conflicts are all contributing issues. These issues inhibit the creation of a stable food source. Therefore, the lack of food stability is a key contributor to hunger in Africa. However, a new and innovative digital solution is joining the fight against hunger in Africa.

Jumia in Africa

Jeremy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec founded Jumia in 2012, which is an online marketplace for clothes, technology and other commodities. The website has quickly gained the reputation of being the Amazon of Africa, because of its similarity to Amazon in operation and magnitude.

The website created a service, Jumia Food, that delivers fresh food to citizens and businesses alike in 11 African countries. The service aims to reduce food scarcity in Africa by offering a reliable source of food to select countries.

Services like Jumia Food are common in the United States. For example, the services Imperfect Produce and Farm Box Direct, offer the delivery of fresh produce to people’s homes. These companies act as a way to promote sustainability and lower food waste in America; however, Jumia Foods also offers a way to maintain a healthy diet from a safe and reliable source of food.

Jumia Food offers basic food necessities that people can normally find in supermarkets, as well as the delivery of restaurant foods, alcoholic beverages and an assortment of commodities, such as electronics and beauty products. Jumia employed delivery drivers to deliver all orders by bike.

Internet Access

While not a continent-wide solution to food insecurity, Jumia Foods has great potential for those with an internet connection in Africa. The ongoing conflicts in a number of African countries and the fact that the majority of Africans live without a car make trips to a local supermarket a difficult endeavor. This is especially the case for those who live in rural regions far away from a supermarket or grocery store.

Despite this, most of Africa is still without connection to the internet. This difficulty currently hinders the impact of the service. Less than 12 percent of the world’s internet users are located in an African country and only around 13.5 percent of Africans have internet access. However, telecommunication in Africa is growing at a rapid rate. In 2018 alone, the number of internet users in Africa increased by 20 percent.

Bridging the Gap

The internet is a great solution to help reduce hunger in Africa because of the potential to connect remote parts of any country to a reliable food source. As internet usage in Africa continues to rise, this will hopefully reduce food insecurity. With services like Jumia Foods and the potential to connect thousands of customers to their local supermarket, enormous progress is in the future.

Jumia Foods cannot provide food to the most impoverished corners of Africa yet, but the business is nonetheless a futuristic solution that will help provide food to many African consumers. With every additional country that the service expands into, it will create more delivery driver jobs. Further, food insecurity may reduce through this innovative new solution to hunger in Africa.

Andrew Lueker
Photo: Flickr

 Technology's Role in Human Trafficking
The United States Department of Justice defines human trafficking as a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services or commercial sex. Tactics for recruiting victims have existed since the dawn of time with vulnerable people, forced or coerced into trafficking. Those most at risk for recruiting include vulnerable demographics. This includes groups such as homeless people or runaways, domestic violence victims, undocumented and documented immigrants. The internet has made the facilitation of human trafficking easier, but it has also improved circumstances for victims and survivors. This article will highlight technology’s role in human trafficking.

Technology’s Role in Human Trafficking

Prior to the use of technology and in some areas where access to the internet is limited, recruiters depend on personal social networks, the lure of wealth and romantic relationships to recruit victims. In addition, women and girls, already involved with the trafficker and known as bottoms, will assist the trafficker in recruiting other victims.

One way in which technology changes this dynamic is by allowing recruiters to operate through the veil of anonymity. Traffickers often conduct conversations via the Dark Web. According to Europol’s Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment from the year 2015, 40 percent of criminal-to-criminal payments take place in Bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency without a central bank.

Anyone can become a sex trafficking victim because access to the internet furthers the reach and influence of a trafficker. If they are unable to take advantage of socioeconomic vulnerability, then they will be able to use a potential victim’s naivete in online interactions to their advantage. Further exploitation of the victim often includes threats of using commercial sex acts that people have documented. Traffickers might threaten to expose the images, which is a fairly common exploitation tactic. Laws against nonconsensual pornography or revenge porn are increasing, although New York’s laws need improvements.

Tracking Victims

Technology’s role in human trafficking becomes increasingly disturbing, considering the abilities to track the victim’s every move. This could potentially involve the use of GPS technology; however, traffickers have gone as far as embedding GPS tracker chips into their victim’s bodies. An article in Principia Scientific International, which is legally registered in the United Kingdom as a company incorporated for charitable purposes, detailed the story of a doctor x-raying a patient who had handed him a note saying, “I have a tracker in me.” Both the doctor and the victim in the story chose to remain anonymous for safety reasons. This is especially alarming considering an RFID chip was, in fact, embedded in the victim. Often used for pets, RFID chips, short for radio frequency identification, utilize electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to object.

The Bill: AB226

On March 4, 2019, KOLO-TV featured a story regarding the bill, AB226. The bill would ban forced human microchipping. Democratic Assemblyman, Skip Daly, presented the bill at a legislative hearing in Carson City. The network stated that it wanted to show the story after a Wisconsin company offered optional implantable microchips to its employees. Many of the people interviewed for the story appeared to believe that this issue had science fiction overtones. They further stated that “no good could come of (the use of microchips).” This implies the ambiguity of the results of such a procedure and presents issues that could possibly occur in the future.

However, the story of the victim at the doctor’s office signals that this could be a present-day issue. Despite this fact, most do not hear of the issue. It is unknown how many other victims have had microchips implanted into their bodies. Technology’s role in human trafficking seems bleak so far; however, when people use technology correctly, it can be a powerful tool in anti-trafficking efforts. Further, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore created the company, Thorn. The company “house(s) the first engineering and data science team focused solely on developing new technologies to combat online child sexual abuse.” Despite these positive efforts, human trafficking continues to be an alarming issue globally.

Julia Stephens
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

smart cities

Major cities around the world are aiming to reinvent themselves as smart cities. Smart cities integrate new technology that has already been successful for individual households into largescale cities. The modern household has an abundance of people and appliances connected through the internet. The tech-world refers to this phenomenon as the Internet of Things (IoT). Smart cities will take advantage of new technology to become the utopias of sci-fi. On a laundry list of issues to tackle, homelessness stands as one of the most imposing. While some cities concede that the leap forward will not solve homelessness, they are optimistic about broaching benefits for the homeless.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is looking to join other European Union cities in offering on-line diaries.  These semi-private journals will allow the homeless to account for their location and day-to-day activities. Most importantly, they will keep track of crucial information, like medical records, potentially saving lives in critical situations. This addresses a symptom of modern life that has only gotten worse over time. Authorities treat individuals without documentation as though they never existed, and therefore, these individuals cannot benefit fully from the modern information age.

People often take being in the system for granted. Medical records, employment history and interpersonal connections are integral pieces of information to share in modern life. The homeless in smart cities will no longer be invisible people.

Birmingham, England

Many different charity organizations address specific issues out of the multitude of problems that the smart cities face. A divide and conquer strategy is necessary but it benefits from a coordinated approach across groups. Change into Action, a partnership of the Birmingham City Council, the Mayor of the West Midlands and the West Midlands Combined Authority, unites all of the major charity organizations in Birmingham together.

 Fortunately, citizens now have an easy way to select exactly how charities will use their money to help the homeless in smart cities. This donation strategy targets two key psychological barriers for the average benefactor. The first is that people are overwhelmed when they face a multitude of problems they would like to try to remedy. People are more likely to donate now that they can specifically send £2 for a hot meal to someone in need. The second barrier that is broken is the identifiable victim effect. While potential donors may not know exactly who their money is going to, they are able to conceptualize the individual that will receive their help and are more likely to donate.

Jhansi, India

Energy-efficient housing is another technological advancement that smart cities are integrating into their new smart infrastructure. Wealthy people have been able to experience the monetary benefits of energy-efficient housing for some time now, as they can afford modern homes. Modern, energy-efficient homes use less energy and therefore cost less to live in. Jhansi, India has stated in its smart city initiative report that it aims to provide energy-efficient affordable housing for about 7,000 households. The homeless in smart cities will have the opportunity to afford to pay their utility bills and keep a roof over their heads. 

A variety of cities within different countries are all benefitting from embedding smart technology into their framework. The Chief Information Officer of Adelaide, South Australia Peter Auhl, said that the smart city planning phase is the most critical for success and that cities should purchase technology with a direct goal in mind. Saving the homeless from the neglect they experience is a goal that smart cities can achieve.

– Nicholas Pihralla
Photo: Pixabay

5 Facts About the Technology Renaissance in Africa
As of 2019, 11 percent of the world’s internet subscribers are from Africa and only 39 percent of Africans use the internet. However, Africa is quickly closing the digital gap with the developed world. Here are five facts about the technology renaissance in Africa, as digital technology rapidly expands across the continent.

5 Facts About the Technology Renaissance in Africa

  1. Africa is Ripe to Enter the Tech Economy: Africa has multiple advantages over other regions in developing a technology-based economy. The continent has the youngest population in the world with an average age of 19.5, meaning that there is a large population of young people looking for a chance to break into the technology industry. Because of the continent’s late entry into the global tech economy, African tech companies can learn from the early mistakes of tech hubs like Silicon Valley. Further, Africa is entering the digital market at an ideal moment – by entering the industry late, African techies can immediately take advantage of globalized internet technology, bypassing outdated infrastructures such as landlines and branch banking and directly adopting mobile phones or mobile money.
  2. Technology is Revolutionizing Other Sectors: Technology is not just good for the technology industry – as many countries have discovered, one can apply tech to a multitude of industries. Technology is revolutionizing education in Africa through digital books and online classes with global universities such as Harvard and MIT. An app called iCow helps farmers manage their cattle populations. Africans can attend church services online, solving problems of limited religious resources in smaller communities. Additionally, mobile phones and increased connectivity have already been critical in responding to crises like Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria.  New technology has already had a profound effect on both commercial and social industries.
  3. Tech Education is Booming: Recognizing the critical need for technology-based education, multiple universities in Africa now offer software engineering, computer science and other tech programs that compete with established universities such as Yale or Stanford. Further, technology accelerators are rapidly growing. French telecommunications company Orange opened its first African digital center in Tunis, Tunisia in April 2019, which will support startups and educate young entrepreneurs. Nairobi, Kenya-based Andela is the top computer engineering accelerator in Africa, connecting its students with tech jobs around the world.
  4. Africa is Building its Own Tech Economy: The technology renaissance in Africa means that the continent will eventually have its own independent tech market. For example, in October 2019 President Paul Kagame of Rwanda inaugurated Africa’s first smartphone factory. The factory does not produce iPhones – instead, it produces the Mara, a mobile phone that the pan-African Mara Group developed. The Mara is unique in that it is the first phone a company entirely assembles in Africa. Other African companies entering the smartphone market include Onyx Connect from South Africa and AfriOne from Nigeria.
  5. Growing Tech Industries Raise GDP: The increase in access to technology is critical to increasing African countries’ economies. The World Bank reports that a mere 10 percent increase in internet penetration represents a 1.38 percent increase in GDP for a developing country. The growth of African technology also attracts international business – IBM, Google, Facebook and Microsoft have all begun investment projects in Africa based on the continent’s technological growth. Though getting widespread technology access across dispersed communities is a challenge, African governments are coming together and developing plans to move the technology renaissance in Africa forward.

Though African countries are still developing, the continent is becoming a major player in the global technology economy. From international investment to country-specific development, a technology renaissance in Africa is truly underway. The next decade will only see more development and innovations from the “Silicon Savannah.”

Melanie Rasmussen
Photo: Flickr

Technological Access in Bhutan

A mountainous landlocked kingdom of 766,000 people, Bhutan has been traditionally been isolated and disconnected from the outside world for a number of centuries, with previous rulers keeping the nation as a “hermit kingdom” prior to the legalization of television and Internet in 1999. Bhutan‘s economy relies heavily on its agriculture and forestry alongside the budding hydroelectricity industry, which has proven difficult due to the mountainous terrain of the country. The country’s main trade partners are India and Bangladesh, with no known relationship with the U.S. or other major U.N. members. The legalization of the Internet in 1999, as well as investments in technological advancement in the mountainous country, is a turning point for the kingdom as the developing technological access in Bhutan is expected to bring the country to the modern era.

Internet Development

Since the Internet’s introduction in 1999, Bhutan quickly was able to quickly build its telecommunication infrastructure and have much of the country connected. Cell phone services began in 2003, with 80 percent of the population owning a cell phone as of 2018, which includes 70 percent of the population that consists of farmers, making Bhutan one of the most connected countries in the world. This jump from the days of being isolated from the world allows the people of Bhutan to communicate both within and outside of the country’s borders.

Telecommunications

The continued developing technological access in Bhutan has also seen growth through Bhutan’s own investment into its communication networks. Bhutan‘s internal ICT development includes:

  • implementing protection lines for consumer purchases
  • building stations for mobile carriers and broadcasters and expanding upon broadband connections for wireless connections and private access for citizens
  • investing in cybersecurity and strengthening the overall connection quality

The investments in the internal network lines have allowed Bhutan to quickly connect the nation at a rapid pace. However, challenges remain in terms of developing the rural areas of the country within its mountainous terrain. That said, the government is actively looking at ways to change the status quo.

The National Rehabilitation Program (NRB) and the Common Minimum Program are two examples of initiatives focused on building new facilities and roads as well as easier access to electricity and supplies. Mountain Hazelnuts, a company headquartered in Eastern Bhutan has also made major tech investments for its farms, increasing employment and supplying smartphones for hired farmers that help with directions on the road and improve communication.

Henry Elliott
Photo: Flickr

 

Digital GAP Act
For the developed world, internet access has become a standard part of everyday life. Currently, 80 percent of individuals living in the developed world have access to the internet and this number is growing. However, in the developing world, a mere 40 percent of individuals have access to the internet due to a lack of infrastructure. This number decreases to 11 percent when looking at the world’s least developed countries. In order to promote global economic growth and job development, the U.S. has introduced the Digital Global Access Policy (GAP) Act, a bill that would encourage broadband (high-speed) internet access throughout the developing world.

Purpose of the Digital GAP Act

Ultimately, the Digital GAP Act would fund the infrastructure needed to provide broadband internet access throughout the developing world. The goal of the bill is to provide four billion people living in both the urban and rural areas of developing countries with first-time access to the internet by 2027. The benefits of the Digital GAP Act are manifold. Supporters of this bill hope that fixed access to the internet will “catalyze innovation, spur economic growth and job creation, improve health, education, and financial services, reduce poverty and gender inequality, mitigate disasters, and promote free speech, democracy and good governance.” In short, the Digital GAP Act has the potential to be revolutionary because the ability to access all different types of information with the click of a button would drastically transform the developing world.

Who is Spearheading the Bill?

The Digital GAP Act is a bipartisan bill. Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX-Six), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA-33), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX-10) and Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA-Seven) introduced it on February 26, 2019. Additionally, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA-30), Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN-Three) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA-Six) have cosponsored this bill.

On May 20, 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Digital GAP Act. The Senate now needs to pass the bill and President Trump must sign it. The government has reported that there is an 85 percent chance of Senate passing the bill.

The Installation of Broadband Internet

The developing world will gain access to the internet through a build-once policy. In order to fund this initiative, both the public and private sector will invest in roads and other critical infrastructure in order to ensure that the infrastructure will last and that workers install it adequately the first time. The goal is that this infrastructure will be able to reach the poor rural areas of the developing world. Without actively targeting rural areas, only the major cities would gain internet access, leading to heightened wealth disparity. Without promoting the development of all areas, sustainable development cannot be achieved.

The Way the Digital GAP Act Will Benefit the Economy

By providing internet access to more than four billion people throughout the world, the global economic output would increase by approximately $6.7 trillion and raise over 500 million people out of poverty. This initiative would greatly advance the United States’ foreign policy interests because global poverty reduction helps foster resilient, democratic societies, which promote national security and global economic growth. According to the World Bank, “Raising Internet penetration to 75 percent of the population in all developing countries would add as much as two trillion USD to their collective GDP and create more than 140 million jobs around the world.” The bill also anticipates bringing 600 million more women online. Currently, there are 23 percent fewer women online than men. According to the U.S. government, these women would contribute between $13-18 billion in annual GDP across 144 countries.

The Digital GAP Act is a long-term investment. While many foreign aid initiatives look to reduce immediate suffering by providing food aid or funding for crisis relief, the Digital GAP Act looks much further into the future. In other words, the goal of this bill is not to temporarily mitigate poverty, but to end it altogether by promoting avenues for economic growth and job development. However, both forms of foreign aid must work together, for the long-term benefits that this Act could provide are irrelevant if the people do not address the immediate needs of those living in extreme poverty.

– Ariana Howard
Photo: Flickr

Internet Blackout in Sudan

Sudan has been rocked by protests after ousting President Omar al-Bashir in April, who was in power for 30 years. Now under the control of the Transitional Military Council, the internet blackout in Sudan has swept the country while peaceful protestors demand a transition to a democratic civilian government, which has turned deadly.

One-hundred people were killed by government militia, the Rapid Support Forces, during a sit-in protest in early June. Seven more were killed and 181 injured in the biggest protest since at a commemoration event for those who died earlier the same month in Khartoum.

Between 2010 and 2018, internet freedom has declined across the globe. China, Iran, Thailand and Tunisia have a history of blocking news outlets and social networking sites during times of conflict. In addition, although it is a democracy, India has the highest number of internet shutdowns than anywhere in the world.

The problem in Sudan, however, mirrors the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, which remained under the rule of Hosni Mubarak for 30 years. Egypt and Sudan faced internet blackouts in an attempt to silence protestors and hide human rights violations. Despite their attempts, both countries have shown ways of overcoming internet oppression.

African journalist, Zeinab Mohammed Salih, told BBC News that most protests in Sudan are held at night in the suburbs, neighboring cities and small streets, but when more people hear about them, the bigger the protests become. Despite the lack of internet freedom, the latest Khartoum protest is proof of the growing opposition.

How to Bypass the Internet Blackout in Sudan

  1. Neighborhood Committees: Neighborhood committees are spread throughout different districts in the state of Khartoum. In the Omdurman district, just northwest of Khartoum city, four committees consist of almost 60 households. Originally, committees planned the routes of protest marches, but now they are working to share information and provide support and safety to those in need. In the Bahri district, they built barricades just days after the sit-in protest, and in Omdurman, 300 people protested as militia soldiers patrolled Khartoum city.
  2. Phone and Landlines Reign Supreme: When the internet is shut down, phone and landlines become the keys to connecting to the outside world. Although protestors have forwarded the information by SMS text over the cellular network instead of the internet, others find that their texts are not always delivered. In order to bypass the internet blackout in Egypt, several international internet service providers offered dial-up access to the internet, which connects users to phone lines.  Although the connection is slow, it works. When Salih, an African journalist, failed to text her articles to a news outlet in London, she tried to reach a landline at a hotel in Khartoum but struggled to get around the barricades protestors had made, forcing her and others to walk. The internet in Sudan is only accessible through telephone lines or fiber optic cables, although the connection is not so reliable. Despite this, men, women, whether they are protestors or not, crowd mobile shops and cyber cafes in Khartoum.
  3. Peer-to-Peer Network: Adam Fisk is the creator of the free open-source censorship circumvention tool Lantern. The program gives anyone’s computer the ability to become a server by sharing its internet connection with those without it. Those in censored regions can choose who they want to add and shift their traffic through, and the tool bypasses any blocks to Google, Facebook and Twitter. In 2013, the Chinese government blocked the program after the number of users rose to more than 10,000, but the program does not provide anonymity. Fisk recommends Tor to remain anonymous, another tool that encrypts traffic and sends it around the world, masking the user’s actual location and making them harder to track.
  4. Innovation for the Future: After the Egyptian Revolution, innovators like Fisk are still trying to create tools to circumvent future government-mandated shutdowns. Bre Pettis is one of them. The goal is to create quick and reliable chats on a local network so users can communicate without internet access in an emergency situation.

According to Haj-Omar, what Sudan needs to achieve freedom and uphold human rights is more attention from the international community, even though the internet blackout makes it easier for the Sudan government to conceal these issues. The internet blackout in Egypt robbed the Egyptian people of freedom, only inspiring more to take to the streets. Sudan can learn and grow from Egypt’s past.

– Emma Uk
Photo: Flickr


Nearly 63 percent of people living in Africa lack internet access. In contrast, 11 percent of North Americans, 13 percent of Europeans and 48 percent of Asians lack internet access. In response to this issue, Africa50, an infrastructure investment organization, has launched an innovation challenge asking for modern innovators to submit their original ideas on how to provide internet to under-served areas in Africa.

The Africa50 Innovation Challenge began May 14, after it was announced at the Transform Africa Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda the same month.

The submitted solutions will be piloted in Rwanda, which Africa50 CEO Alain Ebobissé said was the ideal place to implement and test the solutions.

Rwanda: A Country Evolving in ICT

Ebobissé described the country as having a thriving Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) sector. Cooperation between the challenge and the co-development of the Kigali Innovation City, a project Africa50 invested $400 million in 2018, is evidence of this ICT boom.

Rwanda has increased its internet access to 29 percent, as of 2019. The increase is a marked improvement compared to the less than 1 percent who had access in 2000. This development can, in part, be accredited to the National Information Communication Infrastructure (NICI) policy the country adopted in 2000.

The policy defines four separate stages of increasing internet and communication in Rwanda. The country has already prepared the ICT groundwork and is currently in the fourth and final stage; enhancing the infrastructure and improving the service delivery.

The goal of the final stage is to increase technological skills, develop the community and private sector and enhance the government’s use of the internet and cyber-security. The policy is planned to end in 2020.

The ideas will be implemented more broadly across the continent once the pilot phase in Rwanda is complete.

Winning Criteria and Perks

The judges will be looking for six main criteria in the proposals submitted to the Africa50 Innovation Challenge:

  • Innovation and originality
  • Ability to be implemented on a large scale
  • Affordability for both implementors and consumers
  • Sustainability for the environment
  • Readiness to be piloted in Rwanda
  • Adaptability of the solution for a variety of circumstances

The finalists will be announced mid-October and they will present their solutions at AfricaCom the following month.  Those selected will be announced at the 2020 Transform Africa Summit, but the organization does not specify how many winners will be chosen.

The winners will be awarded a cash prize or project development funding, connections to investors and exposure as an innovator.

If these solutions are implemented, economic growth and job creation are a few of the newfound benefits that may come to these countries. Companies can grow and have an improved role in the competitive market if they have access to the internet.  As a result, these solutions allow them to reach more consumers, labor pools and raw materials, according to a 2012 report by the International Telecommunication Union.

ICT Progress in Other African Countries

There will certainly be interesting proposals from this year’s Africa50 Innovation Challenge entries,  but there are already solutions that have worked in other African countries.

For example, Kenya has had a considerable jump in their internet speed and bandwidth — which increased 43 percent from 2016 to 2017. This increase can be attributed to the National Broadband Strategy for Kenya. Additionally, Nigeria has increased its number of internet users from 72 million in 2017, to 92 million in 2018.

Nigeria’s fiber network, 21st Century, is partnering with Google Station and anticipates the installation of 200 Wi-Fi hotspots by the end of 2019, according to Fortune.

Africa50 aims to spread high-speed internet and improve opportunities for those living in under-served communities, whatever the solution.

– Makenna Hall
Photo: Flickr