US and Chinese tech giants are investing in Africa's digital infrastructure to avoid internet censorship from authoritarian regimes

Author: Clarissa Herrmann, Deutsche Welle, Published on: 29 May 2019

"Who brings the internet to Africa's remote regions?", 28 May 2019.

African countries are now the world leaders when it comes to the use of mobile networks for everything from money transfers to government services. And Africa's digital revolution could be much more advanced if it weren't for the blatant lack of reliable infrastructure...US tech giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Google are pushing their way into Africa's digital market. They're investing in satellites, helium balloons and drones so that even the most remote corners of the continent can remain connected. The Chinese-led 'Digital Silk Road'...aims to help developing countries expand their digital infrastructure. The project involves China taking technology from telecommunications company Huawei to Africa...

The classic, multinational telecommunication giants such as South-African based MTN, the French-owned Orange SA and Indian Bharti Airtel, remain the biggest players in Africa's internet infrastructure, with government-run companies now only playing a minor role...It's evident that controlling a country's digital infrastructure is now a key factor of maintaining power — especially for authoritarian regimes. In the context of elections and demonstrations...some African governments have previously made it difficult to access popular individual apps such as Twitter or Facebook, while some have blocked internet access altogether. African regimes don't want to lose this instrument of power and so are now putting pressure on the service providers...According to [Felix Blanc from Internet Sans Frontiers (ISF)], even European companies such as Orange accept censorship if that means gaining access to new markets...

The providers of internet services and popular apps such as Facebook, Google and Amazon are still dependent on the existing digital infrastructure...Maintaining independence from the telecommunications companies — and thus also from the censorship of authoritarian regimes — is one of the reasons why the tech giants are striving to help shape the infrastructure market...Silicon Valley's investment in Africa's digital infrastructure is not without its problems...If the companies who do their own advertising are on track to rely on their own infrastructure in the future, it would lead to a shift on the continent...Blanc shares this view, linking it to China's involvement in Africa. "This fragmentation and this war — which can be observed on a global scale between China and the US — will directly impact Africans," he said...

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Related companies: Alphabet Amazon.com Bharti Airtel Facebook Google (part of Alphabet) Huawei Technologies MTN Orange SpaceX Twitter