#SPLINTERNET: Is Africa ready for (likely) future of the internet?

The Executive Chairman of Alphabet (Google parent company) predicted in 2013, via his book The New Digital Age, that in future the internet will be less global. He predicted that the internet would be divided into different continents. This division of the internet into different parts is referred to as the Splinternet. It is a fractured web, where the global internet has been consigned to the dustbin of history in favor of regional or national intranets in the name of cyber sovereignty and security.

At the time such predictions sounded ridiculous for most  parts of the world. China has always being known as one part of the world that has its own internet. Now this prediction is slowly becoming a reality based on reports by ZDNet about Russia and internet.

The report this week has suggested that Russia is going to disconnect itself from the global internet,temporarily. This will be done as part of a test during March 2019 before the 1st of April 2019. This is also done to provide feedback to a Russian law was passed last year towards the end of the year. The law mandated that Russia Internet Service Providers could ensure the independent of Russia’s internet in case the government needed to pull out of the global internet. Cyberattacks by enemies may be the main inspiration for such a move.

Russia will be the second BRICS country to consider independence from the global internet. In doing so, it will also be in keeping with the BRICS Cable vision. BRICS Cable was first announced in 2013 by then Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff. She indicated that the initiative would focus on building BRICS own high-speed Internet free of the U.S. influence.

The plan by Russia to temporarily cut itself from the global internet is an indication that the Splinternet is closer than many thought. Would this happen in the African continent? The circumstances that will lead to Splinternet will be about protecting sovereignty and not leisure. In the book The New Digital Age Eric Schmidt and his co-author Jared Cohen predicts that, governments will feel as if they’re fighting a losing battle against an endlessly replicating and changing internet, and balkanization (Splinternet) will emerge as a popular mechanism to address this challenge.

There are positive and negative views about the Splinternet and both are worthy of consideration. When circumstances force Africa  to consider its own internet, this will give rise to African developed tech platforms.

The possibility of a Splinternet should inspire African technology companies to plan for a future without foreign technology platforms. In China, the closed internet has given rise to Chinese technology giants. China would not have created its own technology platforms and products if it had allowed foreign technology companies to dominate their market. Today, China has a version of every tech platform that exists in US and Europe. The same cannot be said about Africa. To change this situation will require African tech leaders to collaborate more and work with one vision to create the technology of the African continent. The current leading African tech eco-systems, Kenyan,Nigerian and South African tech eco-system, would have to find a way of working together to develop a roadmap.

The African Union as well should place Splinternet on top of their agenda and deliberate about how Africa can respond to this possibility. There should be an African Roadmap about technology in Africa that has no foreign technology solutions. This should be done not for pride but for Africa’s sovereignty and security in future to avoid being recolonised.

Kay Ann