smart citiesMajor 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

Better Internet Access in Africa

Africa stands as a vast and untapped continent that holds high promise for harnessing the power of the Internet. As better Internet access in Africa increases, more people are using the tools of the Internet to empower themselves. They are additionally using it to fuel innovation to find solutions to many of their problems. A term that has started gaining emphasis concerning the Internet in Africa is The Internet of Things. It presents a harmony between hardware and software systems toward the goal of automating many different aspects of society. According to McKinsey & Company, the Internet of Things “has a total potential economic impact of $3.9 trillion” in Africa, meaning that Africans who properly tap into that potential can wield its power to empower themselves.

An important aspect of the Internet of Things is how simple it is for common African citizens to create apps that can provide amazing solutions that address specific and local problems. With a basic education in technological skills, anyone can bring electricity to a village or proper air conditioning to houses in their neighborhood.

Investing in Better Internet Access in Africa

Many global internet companies are attempting to accelerate the expansion of the Internet in Africa by heavily investing in the continent. One example is that “with Internet.org, Facebook wants to provide millions of people…in Africa, with access to the Internet.” This access would be provided for free. Africans can harness this Internet for startups and other entrepreneurial pursuits. These pursuits can boost African nations’ ability to be competitive in the global economy.

In the Congo, Tujiung is “a computer resource center for women coping with violence.” This is essential for the recovery of many women who are victims of the violence that has become rampant due to the political instability in the country. Tujiung provides women with access to information, education and support services through the Internet. This line of communication can help women effectively cope with violence. Additionally, it empowers them to move past being a victim and strive for a normal life.

Making Africa Computer-Literate

With overall low computer literacy in Africa, women are striving to fill in open jobs. For example, a volunteer group called Help to Help attempts to improve gender equality by having boot camps that teach young Tanzanian women how to code and develop their tech skills. Those girls are empowered by their newly developed skills to get into tech careers that propel them to the forefront of innovation in Africa.

The Internet, with its amazing capabilities, provides promise for the biggest continent in the world, Africa. The Internet is rapidly growing in Africa. Better Internet access in Africa results in rapidly increasing empowerment for African citizens. Women are pushing to gain technological literacy. Their skills give them the ability to gain more equality in the workplace and society at large.

-Anish Kelkar
Photo: Flickr

Top 5 Benefits of the Internet in Developing Countries
As of 2019, 56.1 percent of the global population, or about 2.3 billion people, has access to the internet. In recent years the fastest growing market segment has been developing countries, and with the expansion of its popularity, overwhelmingly positive changes have occurred. These top five benefits of the internet in developing countries show how internet access makes a huge dent in global poverty.

Top 5 Benefits of the Internet in Developing Countries

  1. Lifting Individuals out of Poverty: Through internet access, individuals in developing countries are able to gain access to more of the modern economy. With internet connectivity, those living in remote areas can now easily take out microloans, participate in e-banking and more. Today, there are more than 3,098 microfinance organizations that have reached out to more than 211 million clients in developing countries globally. Via such economic tools, those living in extreme poverty are able to improve the quality of their lives. For example, in a case study in India, businesses that received microloans were twice as profitable as those that didn’t. This is because with credit, those without a lot of initial capital now have a discretionary income and no longer have to choose between investing in a business or buying everyday necessities such as medications.
  2. Growing Access to Education: With internet connectivity and new technologies, third-world countries become more able to bridge the education gap between urban and rural populations. In sparsely populated areas, mobile electronic devices such as tablets are being utilized to deliver invaluable classroom instruction to children that otherwise wouldn’t likely receive it. For example, a giant literacy campaign with a budget of $173.5 million is currently being initiated by the Kenyan education ministry. The project utilizes BRCKs: durable, personalized tablets that contain educational content aiming to deliver learning opportunities to those living in even the most remote locations.
  3. Increasing the Ease of Communication: The internet is arguably the most inexpensive and effective connectivity tool. By accessing it, individuals in developing countries can participate in e-conversations through applications such as WhatsApp and WeChat. In a survey conducted in 2017, it was found that about 85 percent of internet users in sub-Saharan Africa used it to stay in touch with family and friends, and around 60 percent utilized it to access social media sites.
  4. Improving Crop Efficiency: Through IoT (internet of things) systems, farmers in developing countries can easily access information about important variables such as humidity, temperature and terrain topography through a variety of sensors. Precision agriculture in third-world countries has also led to the development of unique insurance systems. For example, with Kilimo Salama, farmers in Eastern Africa can now purchase insurance that automatically makes mobile payments to them if their local weather stations record extreme weather occurrences such as drought or flooding. Today, over 150,000 farmers are enrolled in this program.
  5. Greater Global Participation: As of 2017, 53 percent of adult internet users used the internet to stay informed on the news. Because many developing countries also harbor internal conflicts, being up to date on the status quo of things becomes especially crucial for their citizens. In addition, individuals in developing countries can become a part of global conversations via online communication platforms. Social media campaigns have proven themselves to be especially effective at raising awareness for many issues and increasing participation in protests. For instance, many Iranians used Twitter to protest the injustice of the disputed Iranian election of 2009. Through this social media app, the movement was able to go viral with tags such as #IranElection.

Through the increased availability of internet access and clever innovations in third-world countries, the lives of many people have been greatly impacted in overwhelmingly positive ways. With the rise of the popularity of internet kiosks and cafes in rural areas, the hope of universal internet access is no longer far-fetched, and one can only imagine the total impact that internet in developing countries will have on alleviating global poverty.

– Linda Yan
Photo: Flickr

Tech Hubs in Ghana
Even with the challenges the country faces in establishing complete infrastructure, the positive influence of internet coverage in Ghana can be seen from the following data from 2016:

  • Over 18 different service providers offer easy access to the internet all over Ghana. These providers include BusyInternet, Africanus.net and Africa Online.
  • Over 2,900,000 of the Facebook users live in Ghana.
  • As of 2016, 28.4 percent of the Ghana population had access to the internet, opposed to a mere 0.2 percent in 2000.
  • The number of 7,958,675 internet users means that 20,074,700 people still live without internet access in Ghana.

Community-Influenced Tech Hubs

An African organization called Developers in Vogue provides a haven for Ghanaian women pursuing the education in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Women make up over 50 percent of the population in Africa but less than 20 percent of the science and engineering world in Africa. Developers in Vogue combats gender preconceptions on one level and lack of opportunity on another. Providing scholarships, training courses and a project-based curriculum for women seeking a STEM career, Developers in Vogue connects students with internship and jobs. Their aim is to inspire social impact through technology and problem-solving by using real-life cases from their communities in their curriculum.

Another company, Hopin Academy in Tamale, Ghana, works toward supporting students by connecting them to the courses most appropriate for their interests and skills. Through peer-to-peer development and local innovators, the tech hub connects Ghanaians from different backgrounds to practical niches in the local job market. One of the school’s students, Mercy Hammond, is studying BA in Development Education and had her secondary education at Aburi Girls’ Senior High School in the Eastern Region. She is the owner and director of Sparkle House Enterprise that was registered on June 28, 2017, and is involved in the production of jewelry made of both beads and soft metals.

Companies Partnering with Ghana Tech Hubs

As Christoph Fitih, Sales Director for Africa branch of Parallel Wireless states, African countries need to adopt new technologies to prevent further marginalization of Africa from the world economy and eliminate the widening of the current digital divide between Africa and the rest of the world.

Businesses in Ghana understand the time is ripe to create an online presence and even necessary as the world market starts to move more and more toward internet users. MEST, a Pan-African organization partnering with global tech giants, offers aspiring entrepreneurs a rigorous, fully sponsored 12-month program to top-graduates in several African countries including Ghana. Training includes business, communications and software development as well as hands-on project work, giving graduates the chance to pitch their final idea to the board and receive seed funding for their entrepreneurship. Academics and teachers from all over the world bring their experience to the company.

More internet coverage in Ghana means tech companies such as Hubtel and Rancard have become Pan-African brands and according to Nana Prempeh, co-founder and CEO of Asoriba, Ghana has great strengths when it comes to the tech ecosystem. MEST has been a strong backbone of the community. Other global companies partnering with Ghana’s many startups and tech hubs include Google, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, all connected through MEST.

Ghana Technology Development Issues

Ghana’s comparatively stable electricity, security and internet infrastructure exists despite the series of damaging military coups the country went through before 1981. Even though fewer than 1 percent of African retail sales happen online, e-commerce will sky-rocket in Africa, according to the technology review Ghana’s Last Mile by Jonathan Rosen. He hopes issues with unpaved roads and confusing street-labeling will soon be solved through the same spirit of innovation that is already sweeping the nation.

Broader internet coverage in Ghana brightens its future in tech and the online market. There are obstacles of infrastructure to overcome and yet great hope for keeping up with world-wide tech hubs remains. Perhaps the country’s name, roughly derived from the words meaning Warrior King, gives a glimpse of the spirit of the country.

Investment from giants like Google and Amazon Web Services spearhead the beginning of partnerships with corporations all over the globe, as other companies begin to take notice of Ghana’s local hubs and competitive training. Most encouraging is seeing the hands-on training of MEST addressing communities and providing a stream of trained tech-students into the job market.

– Hannah Peterson

Photo: Flickr

8. Internet Censorship in Russia and China
Internet access has become a vital source of information and awareness around the world in the past decade. While more than 50 percent of the world’s population remains without internet access, countries with large populations such as India and China have a massive and growing user base. 

While theoretically advancing their countries not only technologically but politically and socially as well, government restrictions on the right to post or access certain types of information can seriously curtail these benefits. Technology has long been a catalyst for change; however, when restricted, technology can quickly become a tool used for the suppression of human rights such as freedom of expression, free speech and freedom of assembly. 

Studies have determined three key points for promoting internet access across the globe: foreign investment, a focus on the community rather than individual access and no government monopolization of the newly emerging market. Today, government monopolization has the potential to become synonymous with internet censorship. 

Internet Censorship in China

China has more than 750 million internet users, and every user deals with internet censorship. Known as the ‘Great Firewall,’ China’s series of internet filters is one of the most comprehensive systems in the world, restricting citizens’ access to hundreds of internet sites.

Prior to 2017, many internet users in China were able to circumvent the Great Firewall using Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, which provide users with browsing capabilities private from their internet providers. However, within the past year, the number of VPNs able to slip through China’s restrictions has decreased substantially. 

Government monopolization of news outlets in China has led to internet censorship, sometimes to the point of misinformation. In 2017, new legislation in China required all online news sources to be fully monitored by government-approved editors and writers. This enables the government to block legitimate news stories that run counter to the government’s position while also allowing them to push misinformation and propaganda through news websites, giving them complete control of the country’s narrative. 

Internet Censorship in Russia

Russia, another country suffering from serious internet censorship, followed closely behind China in banning VPNs so as to further restrict access to web pages not approved by the government. Without their own Great Firewall, Russia focused on banning specific sites. In 2017, approximately 244 web pages were blocked every day. 

Beyond blocking individual sites, or even entire categories such as news outlets, both Russia and China enforce severe internet censorship on individual citizens. For example, in newly enforced restrictions, China requires internet users to register for online communication sites with their real names. This enables them to hold individuals accountable for what is said in previously private settings. 

These restrictions are typically put in place under the guise of stemming extremist speech, but they can be, and often are, used to block or discourage any speech that the government wishes to suppress. Russian citizens have seen a drastic increase in threats, physical assaults and imprisonment associated with internet censorship on the individual level. Writing, posting or sharing information and opinions on topics such as Russian-occupied Crimea, religious freedom or Syria can result in up to 12 years in jail. 

Censorship: A Human Rights Violation

Those dealing with internet censorship in both Russia and China are in fact experiencing human rights violations. In China, freedom of expression in one of the last safe places—online communities—is closely monitored and used against individuals; in Russia, freedom of expression has become unsafe and restricted to a point worse than anything seen since the Soviet era.  

While technology is often viewed as a large component of a nation’s ability to improve the lives of its citizens, internet censorship creates an environment of control and misinformation. More vital to the wellbeing of people and, by extension, the country they live in, are necessary freedoms such as freedom of expression and speech.

Through the restrictions Russia, China and other countries place on their citizens access to information on the internet, governments have the opportunity to trap people in a cycle of misinformation and silence, thereby negating the once-positive effects of internet access. 

Overcoming Internet Censorship

Citizens in these restrictive countries are growing stronger in their opposition to this violation of their rights. In Russia, the number of protests concerning freedom of speech, religion and assembly has continued increasing. In China, many citizens continue to find ways to circumvent the Great Firewall.

The freedom of internet access has the potential to overtake the negative effects of internet censorship, so long as individuals, communities and countries continue to work towards honesty and open communication across the globe. Simply through our knowledge of internet censorship in countries such as Russia and China, the growing issue of human rights violations is being more openly discussed, and thereby, empowering many people in those countries to continue to fight against the oppression.

– Anna Lally
Photo: Flickr