On 18th day of January,2012,the Internet World woke up to see that Wikipedia,the fifth most visited website on the internet,has blacked out its content to protest two anti- piracy bills;the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) being moved by the US house of representatives and the Senate respectively.
I quickly recalled that some months ago,it was Dorothy Gordon,the Director General of Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence in ICT,Ghana,in an email communication ,brought my attention to this very important bills that can change everything about the Internet.We have no doubt enjoyed the openness of the Internet and the World Wide Web,Internet activists and hacktivists have opined that the Acts are meant to break the internet and restrain it from its growth and openess.
SOPA and PIPA are geared towards protecting copyright infringement and Intellectual proper theft on the Internet.Wikipedia in its explanation says these bills are presented as efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign websites but they do so in a way that would disrupt free expression and harm the Internet.It further explains that the bills are threats to open,secure and free Internet and will surely stifle expression on the Internet.
The bills no doubt,have pitched content developers/providers especially in the music and film industry against websites that host contents on the Internet.The proponents of the bills are of the view that the bills when passed will help bring innovations,create more jobs in their industry,stop internet piracy and illegitimate internet activities.
Notable websites kicking against the legislation are Google,
Facebook,Wikipedia,Mozilla,Wordpress,Tweeter,Twitpic etc. They are of the opinion that the web should not be censored in that manner arguing that there are already existing copyright laws protecting copyrights.Wikipedia further explains that the bill would put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for unnecessary blocking of entire sites.Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves.Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors,even if copyright isn’t being infringed.Foreign websites will be blacklisted,which means they won’t show up in the search engine and that will build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.
In the wake of this online protest,it is remarkable to note what Mark Zuckerberg,founder Facebook said about SOPA and PIPA on his facebook status”The Internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world.We can’t let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the Internet’s developement.Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA and will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the internet”.Google in her own words said”Tell the Congress:Please don’t censor the web”Interesting views!
I have seen clearly from the on going discussions on SOPA and PIPA that there are several interests being presented,what is US government’s interest in these bills?what’s the content providers’ interest?What are the successful internet businesses interests?Does the present state of information sharing on the Internet favour governments?Who wants to control the Internet through these Laws and legislation?Will these laws only affect the US?Where is Africa(with her size,human and material resources) in all of these?What will be the effect of these bills on the Future of African start ups.These are questions upon questions that bother my mind right now.One thing is sure,these legislation if fully enacted,will affect everyone(whether positively or negatively),it will have a global effect like the global melt down.
My thought is that Africa should speak out and participate in this,we should have a stand,but hey!how far will our voices be heard?Which successful Internet businesses do we have to protect or will lead in this global voice on SOPA and PIPA.That is what am talking about!
It reminds me how Africa over the years has been playing ‘catch up’in every age,we missed the industrial age now can we afford to sleep in the knowledge- based era,where knowledge with the speed of technology drives economies?.
Not only have we become digital colonies but are comfortable being digital slaves busy ploughing the fields of others while our nations have hunger,disease,bad leadership to bring us down!This is the new war to fight in all African countries.
Our over dependence on the government to point the way for us has lead us to this disadvantaged position.Government in almost all the African nations have failed her people,they are entirely clueless especially in the issues of technology development and empowerment.Technology,especially the Internet is that tool that can bring back hope to Africa.We need to play active roles in issues and policies that will shape the future of the Web and Internet.
Talking about the future of Internet in Africa,have we ever thought of what to do with the optic fibers crisscrossing the continent?.It is when we begin to realize the enormous potentials and possibilities in Africa,then we will maximize them.Nobody will be so interested in developing Africa than the Africans.
In conclusion,i think this is an opportunity for Africa Internet Governance Forum and her affiliates,stakeholders promoting internet development in Africa,to intensify efforts in their activities.We need more awareness,We need to have a stand,we need to protect our future,importantly we need to understand what the future holds for Africa on the Internet,until then i will keep asking the question,do Africa have Internet?