"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
Of course, any piece of writing with a title like this one has to start with a disclaimer / caveat: Africa is not a country. There are huge differences with regards to make-up of the economies, governance challenges, and stages of development. South Africa, Niger, and Cabo Verde are very, very different. Nevertheless, significant similarities – in particular with regards to development – are shared, including the challenges faced that emanate from the global economic context.
In a famous (and pessimistic) paper, Harvard professor Dani Rodrik had already showed the challenges. (Too) briefly summarized: have any chance of sustaining high growth rates, Africa would have to find pathways that are so far unknown (and unlikely). However, a recent article by EY Global sounded a more positive note, highlighting the shift in FDI from traditional extractive industries to telecommunications, retailing and services.
The impact of digitization is still unclear. As I have noted in earlier blogs, much of the key technology and leverages of power are controlled by non-African actors. There is also the question to what degree digital platforms create employment compared to the industries they displace (the famous story that Instagram was bought for 1 billion US $ while it only had 13 employees) or create less valuable jobs (e.g. Uber, Deliveroo, etc.).
Some see opportunity. A recent World Bank report does see “three possible reasons that could lead less skilled workers in Sub-Saharan Africa to benefit more from the adoption of digital technology than in other regions.” Unfortunately, this does seem to be based on some (at the very least) questionable logic. The first reason is that Africa’s manufacturing sector is small to begin with and Africans earn so little, that automation may be a limited risk. The second is that demand for many products is so low that automation may (though this is a gamble at best) increase demand. And finally, digital technology may increase access to (adapted) services in Africa. The latter argument is the only one that really inspires any sense of optimism in my opinion.
An article for the ECIPE by Erik van der Marel notes that the 2008-9 financial crisis caused digital services trade to “de-link” from goods related services trade. He expects this to continue following the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, growth in globalization will lean heavily on digital trade and cross-border exchanges in intangibles. Access to technology, bandwidth, ideas, and legal enforcement will be critical in this context. Is Africa ready for this? It will be of critical importance to have any perspective of the rapid growth needed to eradicate poverty.
13.09.2020, Brussels, Belgium
Global collective action on climate change was deficient even before the advent of COVID-19. As with several other areas of global governance, the lack of leadership is a key reason for this. If this is to be remedied, it is essential that the EU not only reaches its own targets regarding climate change measures but also makes climate change a priority of its external relations. So far, beyond fine words, its “climate diplomacy” has been mixed bag at best.
The current European Commission has made action on climate change one of its priorities with a, “European Green Deal”. While it can be criticized (in particular if it promises enough money), there does seem to be general cautious optimism (incl. from civil society organisations such as the WWF). Of course, climate change and the steps needed to address it - transforming our industrial system, our financial sector, and our personal habits – are massive challenges. Even within the EU the Commission cannot engender the needed change by itself. While the European Parliament is generally an ally (both regarding climate change but also the need for a pan-European approach), individual Member States and the Council often have divergent positions. It remains to be seen what the “Green Deal” delivers.
The Green Deal includes an external component, which focuses on the EU’s global role. While the communication from the Commission does include a range of examples, both the main text and the annex (the “roadmap” of key actions) are vague with regard to a possible climate diplomacy. This is a missed opportunity. First of all, “Green diplomacy” has been on the EU agenda at least since the 2003, when the European Council launched an initiative in this area. A 2018 resolution of the European Parliament on “climate diplomacy” called for a range of actions. In a blog the HRVP points out the importance of this “Green Deal diplomacy”, but unfortunately also remains largely unspecific with regards to specific actions and priorities. Moreover, dealing with global issues is a specific obligation of the EU under the Treaty. The lack of progress is disappointing.
Secondly, the need for global leadership on climate action is evident. If climate change – and the measures needed to address it are matter of debate in the EU, this pales in comparison with the debate in the United States. While poorer and developing countries have to balance difficult current priorities with the needed actions and face challenges to ensure the necessary investments, richer countries need to lead the change and action needed. This is even more the case if we take into account total contributions to causing climate change (by some calculations G20 countries are responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions). Someone needs to fill the leadership gap by clearly prioritizing climate diplomacy.
Third, EU has had mixed results with its development of climate diplomacy. At least since the 1980’s, the EU – or European countries – have played an important role in environmental negotiations (e.g. treaties protecting biodiversity or implementing environmental regulation via the acquis). With regards to climate change specifically, EU results have been complicated. While there was strong support for the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen conference in 2009 was a failure for the EU. Even the recent COP 25 in Madrid, where the priority was to address outstanding issues from the Paris Agreement, was largely disappointing. The EU positions on climate change face internal political tensions and the global context (marked by the UNFCC process) is complex (and the role of the EU institutions specifically is somewhat unclear). Nevertheless, the successes show EU leadership via climate diplomacy is possible and in light of the importance of the issue warrants reflection.
What is to be done? The Green Deal’s action plan has as an action entitled, “Strengthen the EU’s Green Deal Diplomacy in cooperation with Member States” (with its “indicative timetable” noting “from 2020”). As the Green Deal notes, “The EU will continue to promote and implement ambitious environment, climate and energy policies across the world. It will develop a stronger ‘green deal diplomacy’ focused on convincing and supporting others to take on their share of promoting more sustainable development. By setting a credible example, and following-up with diplomacy, trade policy, development support and other external policies, the EU can be an effective advocate. The Commission and the High Representative will work closely with Member States to mobilise all diplomatic channels both bilateral and multilateral – including the United Nations, the G7, G20, the World Trade Organization and other relevant international fora.” The Green Deal lists a wide range of opportunities where climate diplomacy could play a role (e.g. EU – China summits, trade negotiations, the single market as standard-setter). The Council has always been more tentative, for example emphasizing Member State sovereignty in energy matters and the need for energy security.
If the EU is to really make climate diplomacy a priority, the relevant EU institutions (notably the Commission and EEAS) will need to develop a clear strategy. The above-mentioned resolution from the European Parliament provides a broad range of concerns and issues and can complement the somewhat limited perspectives of the Green Deal on climate diplomacy. The resolution also makes concrete suggestions with regards to the functioning of climate diplomacy in the EU (e.g. calling for the High Representative to coordinate this effort, specific funding and structures for climate diplomacy, and a regular dialogue with the Parliament on the matter).
A specific communication on climate diplomacy from the Commission and EEAS would focus the attention of all (in particular the Council and Member States, but also between Commission DG’s) and could form the basis for a strategy and dialogue. The range of EU stakeholders involved, the many tools for the EU (the UNFCC process, bilateral / regional agreements, development cooperation, enlargement negotiations, etc…) mean that a clear and monitorable overview is essential. Moreover, the ongoing debate on these issues within the EU mean that a strategy is also important to guide and understand the internal EU political factors. Indeed, the importance of the linkages between domestic and external policies for Europe’s “geopolitical ambitions has been noted.
All of the elements of climate diplomacy will face challenges and trade-offs, both in terms of diplomatic strategy and technical measures. Yet the EU is in a strong to position to make significant contributions to the global political process, if it gets organized. With the current Commission’s geopolitical and green ambitions, it will be interesting to see where the EU’s climate diplomacy goes. For global climate justice, it is essential that the EU’s climate diplomacy finally gets serious.
26.08.2020, Brussels, Belgium
The past few weeks, and arguably the past years, have not been kind to the Sahelian countries. As mentioned before, due to the Covid-19 situation, we have been in Belgium since June. A week ago, an attack killed 8 people, including several French NGO workers as they were visiting a national park just outside Niamey. The park was famous for the West-African giraffes that lived there. The area was considered safe, and when were in Niamey we visited several times as a family. Of course, this will further hit the (limited) tourist sector – France has already put pretty much the entire country as a “red” zone as a result of the attack. Those living in Niamey are like to face further restrictions.
In addition to this, the past few months Niger has also faced financial and human rights scandals hitting the army. The economic crisis linked to Covid-19 will inevitably hit the country hard. Regionally, the recent coup d’état in Mali, even if the civilian government was very unpopular (and many welcome the coup), does not augur well for the region.
Ever since the war in Libya and the French intervention in Mali in 2013, the question remains if the situation is improving. The G5 Sahel is having difficulty getting operational. While a lot has happened in terms of technical assistance (including by several EU member states and a CSDP mission) and a lot of development cooperation has taken place (not only did partners of Niger scale up efforts, but countries like the Netherlands started a relationship with the country). But with the overall impact of Covid-19 unclear, it is certain that the economic impact will be disastrous (though never seen before low growth seems certain; only question how low and for how long). The fact remains that no clear victory has been gained against the terrorist movements in the region since 2013. Unfortunately, the past few years may have been “easier” than what’s ahead.
21.08.2020, Brussels, Belgium.
The past few weeks, following the filmed death of a hand-cuffed black man in the United States while he was being arrested, has seen a massive rise in anti-racism demonstrations across the West. These demonstrations take on a range of issues, from the original question of police violence (both in the United States and abroad) to questioning the memory and historicism of slavery and colonialism (often by “attacking” statues of historical figures with links to the issues such as Belgium’s king Leopold or leaders of the Confederacy in the United States).
Race and identity are difficult issues. It’s even more difficult when it comes to factoring in historical events, with today’s perspectives. It’s also clear there are worrying issues today that have their roots in the past. The statistics on police brutality against African Americans in the United States are shocking, clearly the problem goes beyond “a few bad apples”, and now they are regularly filmed, impossible to deny. But even in development cooperation, while arguably not dealing with such blunt violence, there still are questions to ask about how we deal with race. And the questions may also be important for overall international relations.
I had to think of a quote in Ta-Nehisi Coates’, Between the World and Me, “Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible – this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe they are white. These new people are, like us, a modern invention.” Identity, individual and social, is really fascinating. It can be beautiful and build powerful links between people, but also exclude, cause violence and be tragic. All based on the social and chemical processes between us and within our brains.
18.06.2020, Brussels, Belgium.
We made it out of Niamey and to Brussels two weeks ago. We were allocated seats on a Belgian Air Force plane that left the DRC and flew back to Belgium via Niamey. We were very fortunate to get seats; clearly there was significant demand. For now, commercial flights remain suspended and it is not clear when they will start again. The flight itself was particular – military medics with protective suits and masks checked us before bordering and we landed at a military airport in Brussels with all the formalities were done in a huge canvas tent. We appreciate how privileged we are to have had this option which is clearly out of reach for close to all the people in Niger.
There is a lot of confusion / unclarity about the current situation regarding the virus. There is some evidence that even though Africa seemed to have avoided the worse scenarios, cases are rising and are also having an impact on management of other health risks such as malaria and hepatitis (interesting article). Even the situation in Europe is very unclear. Nevertheless, the massive negative economic impact of the situation so far remains confirmed.
Recent, in addition to the economic impact, there has been attention for the political impact. Several elections have been postponed and different countries have taken exceptional measures at the limits of their constitutions. At least for some conflicts, the virus is a serious complicating factor. There is some debate about what the long-term impact could be.
We will see what the future brings.
18.06.2020, Brussels, Belgium.
Updated from my last blog on the subject; I’ve now completed and submitted my essay (thesis) on the subject of African participation in internet governance. A great feeling to have completed it; capstone assignment of the course.
For my essay, I gave a brief review of the literature dealing with how internet governance developed.This historical overview is interesting, as it is (at least from the perspective of international governance institutions) quite specific and atypical.Following from that, I looked at a few of the current taxonomies currently used in academia, before taking a specific approach to evaluate African participation in internet governance.Below is a summarized selection from this part.
In the literature there are different types of taxonomies and definitions of core functions and / or critical resources and as a result it is useful to look at a few cases before laying out how to proceed in this specific case. This brief overview will start with a look at the list identified by the WGIG in 2005, which in many ways was the first (and arguably only) international and political formulation and is at the basis of the Internet Governance Forum’s (IGF) work and approach (and hence the UN’s). This will then be complemented by a few key taxonomies and / or overviews from the academic literature.
The WGIG, set up by the UN Secretary General, as mentioned above, was the core of a UN process to address questions around internet governance and hence in its 2005 report also set-out to identify “critical internet resources”. However, possibly reflecting the complexity of the issue and the challenge of the multilateral process, there is no clear articulation by the WGIG of what these critical resources are. First of all, from the four public policy areas identified by the WGIG in its report for attention, one consists of, “Issues relating to infrastructure and the management of critical Internet resources, including administration of the domain name system and Internet protocol addresses (IP addresses), administration of the root server system, technical standards, peering and interconnections, telecommunications infrastructure, including innovative and convergent technologies, as well as multilingualization. These issues are matters of direct relevance to Internet governance and fall within the ambit of existing organizations with responsibility for these matters.” (2005, p. 5).
The second area identified in the report by the WGIG consists of, “Issues relating to the use of the Internet, including spam, network security and cybercrime. While these issues are directly related to Internet governance, the nature of global cooperation required is not well defined. “(ibid, p. 5). The distinction between the two categories seems arbitrary and largely based on the perception of possible governance solutions. Here it needs to be kept in mind that the WGIG largely had a perspective that multinational (e.g. UN) governance was needed for specific internet governance aspects and in particular the tasks managed by ICANN and other US stakeholders.
The other two clusters of governance issues identified by the WGIG in its report consists of “broader” issues (e.g. intellectual property rights or trade) which are (to be) managed by other organizations and Internet governance issues related specifically to the developmental aspects (ibid, p. 5). Noteworthy with both these clusters is how the WGIG felt that these could be separated out into different types of issues.
The report then goes on to identify, “… the issues of highest priority” (ibid, p. 5). It is not articulated by the WGIG which issues belong to which cluster, nor which issues are to be considered covering or dealing with “critical internet resources”. The thirteen issues identified are: a) Administration of the root zone files and system; b) Interconnection costs; c) Internet stability, security and cybercrime; d) Spam; e) Meaningful participation in global policy development; f) Capacity-building; g) Allocation of domain names; h) IP addressing; i) Intellectual property rights (IPR); j) Freedom of expression; k) Data protection and privacy rights; l) Consumer rights; and m) Multilingualism (ibid, pp. 5-8).
What can be discerned with regards to key internet infrastructure from the above list by the WGIG? From the initial quote above – related to the policy areas - it could be understood that the WGIG considers the critical internet resources to be the domain name system administration, the IP addresses, the root server system, technical standards, interconnection, telecommunications infrastructure, innovative and convergent technologies as well as multilingualization. This would be a very wide definition, and, more concerning, a somewhat vague one. “innovative and convergent technologies” is open to wide interpretation, as are “standards”. While in the later breakdown of specific issues the report does not address the question of “standards” this would clearly need further discussion and reflection. Some standards used on the internet (such as the TCP/IP mentioned previously) do need some form of joint agreement and governance, for others (that might be developed in a commercially proprietary context) this might not be the case. And should all “telecommunications infrastructure” be considered and governed under internet governance? Furthermore, the list of issues identified does include some related to the core of managing the internet, while others are arguably secondary (e.g. dealing with spam, consumer rights, or multilingualism). Finally, it is interesting to note that with regards to some of the issues listed – for example data – the WGIG showed foresight (keep in mind that Myspace and what was to become Facebook were only founded in 2003 and that the concept of “big data” had only just entered the lexicon).
Mueller, in his “Networks and States”, builds on the WGIG report’s conception of critical internet resources. He notes that, “… the issues connected to critical Internet resources continue to widen.” (2013, p. 216). And indeed, many of the issues identified by the WGIG did not get solved – as much as they can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction – and more issues were added to the agenda as the importance and technical complexity of the internet increased. The ICANN debate was impacted by cybersecurity issues (e.g. the Snowden revelations) and the DNS questions were impacted by evolving technological changes (ibid, p. 216). Before looking at the resources that Mueller identifies (like the WGIG report, he approaches this via issues) it is important to look at his overview of the key current internet governance institutions.
Mueller identifies the IETF, the Internet Society (ISOC), the Regional Internet Registries (RIR’s), and ICANN as the core institutions (ibid, p. 217). The ISOC was formed by several members of the IETF in 1992, give more structure to the informal working groups that were providing much of the governance for the internet but also to support the IETF if the various projects and agencies that were supporting much of internet development in the early stages might end (or if the needs were to grow). By 1995 the ISOC became more (formally) structured, developed a relationship with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and it now forms with the IETF one of the main forums where technical and policy discussions on a range of topics related to the internet and its governance take place.
Mueller highlights 13 issues with regards to critical internet resources: a) address resources; b) IPv4 address scarcity; c) the “next generation” internet; d) routing security and the RIR’s; e) addresses and states; f) domain name industry regulation; g) multilingual domain names and ccTLDs; h) securing the DNS; i) state authority and ICANN; j) nation-states and internet public policy; k) the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC); l) unilateral globalism (i.e., role of the US); and the “affirmation of commitments” (ibid, pp. 221- 249). In addition to the similarity of the issues to those raised in the WGIG report, noteworthy is the focus on really the nuts and bolts of the internet and how these technical elements have essentially remained the same in a fast-moving sector. As Mueller himself notes, “This analysis will make it clear that domain names and IP addresses, while certainly not the whole of Internet governance, constitute an important part of it that intersects crucially with the other policy domains. Likewise, routing and interconnection, which are almost pure forms of networked governance, constitute the real core of how Internet service is provided.” (ibid, p. 221).
Noteworthy update from the WGIG report is the specific highlighting of the RIRs. According to Mueller, “After years of relative obscurity, the RIRs now find themselves on the front lines of global Internet governance. They are facing several transformational policy issues: (1) the need to manage scarcity in Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses; (2) the need to migrate to a new Internet Protocol; (3) intensifying pressure to make the Internet’s routing system more secure and controllable; and (4) pressures to use IP addresses as a basis for law enforcement.” (ibid, pp. 221-222). Each of these issues is too complex to address at this point (some will be returned to later on), though it is useful to briefly touch on the new Internet Protocol (IPv6) as this is cross-cutting and illustrates today’s governance of critical internet infrastructure.
Summarized, IPv6 will allow for more internet addresses to be able to be created (there is currently a shortage), but IPv6 is not “backwards compatible” (i.e. the two protocols cannot work on / with each other) so both will have to operate in parallel (ibid, p. 224). Needless to say, whatever final solutions will be found, these will involve costs for network operators. One can imagine the potential difficulty of two internets running in parallel; even more so with the advent of the IoT where it is expected that machines communicate with each other at least in part over the internet in order for things to function normally. As a result of the informal and unstructured nature of internet governance there is no clear process for decision-making or global procedure for implementation.
Denardis is a prolific researcher and author in the domain of internet governance. For the purposes of this section, I will focus on her 2014 book (The Global War for Internet Governance), a 2012 paper (Hidden Levers of Internet Control: An infrastructure-based theory of Internet governance) and a 2015 paper written with Raymond (Multistakeholderism: anatomy of an inchoate global institution). Using multistakeholderism as an approach to understand internet governance is at the core of Denardis’ approach (Denardis 2014, pp. 226-227). As a result, it is best to start by unpacking the concept in Denardis’ work and then looking at her approach to critical or core internet resources and functions.
According to Raymond and Denardis, “We define multistakeholderism as two or more classes of actors engaged in a common governance enterprise concerning issues they regard as public in nature, and characterized by polyarchic authority relations constituted by procedural rules.” (2015, p. 573). The term “polyarchic” refers to Dahl and Lindblom’s concept of competition amongst elites / leaders for the support of the public / masses (Von der Mull 1977). In the case of internet governance, the competition is not among political elites in the traditional sense, but between government institutions, private sector actors, and a range of technology experts and platforms. As Denardis notes, “Therefore, a question such as ‘who should control the Internet, the United Nations or some other organization’ makes no sense whatsoever. The appropriate question involves determining what is the most effective form of governance in each specific context. A constantly shifting balance of powers between private industry, international technical governance institutions, governments, and civil society has characterized contemporary Internet governance approaches. This balance of powers is often called ‘multistakeholderism’. (2014, pp. 226-227).
The evolution of the internet and its governance has resulted (so far) in limited participation by states in the development of frameworks for its governance and a strong role for technical and commercial drivers of solutions or compromises and a kind of ‘multistakeholderism by default’ (Raymond and Denardis 2015, p. 585). Attempts to put this into a more formal and state-centric framework (such as the UN’s WGIG process) have had little influence on actual internet governance (ibid, p. 587). Indeed, Denardis has argued that there is now a form of competition of what type of multistakeholderism should lead internet governance: widely diffused, state-centric, or private sector led (2014, p. 228).
Infrastructure is important to the internet even though Denardis examines all dimensions of internet governance. Denardis states that that, “The Internet has a complex technical architecture beneath the layer of applications and content and generally out of public view. This architecture includes a considerable ecosystem of Internet governance technologies, meaning the digital systems and processes inherently designed to keep the Internet operational.” (2012, p. 721).
In their article, Raymond and Denardis present a “disaggregated Internet governance taxonomy” in which one “functional area” is defined as “Control of ‘critical Internet Resources” (2015, p. 590). A range of tasks are listed under this: a) Central oversight of names and numbers; b) Technical design of IP addresses; c) New top-level domain approval; d) Domain name assignment; e) Authorization of root zone file changes; f) IP address distribution (allocation / assignment); g) Management of root zone file; h) Autonomous systems number distribution; i) Operating Internet root servers; and j) Resolving DNS queries (ibid, p. 590). Here we can see the similarity with the issues identified both by the WGIG and Mueller.
Noteworthy is that Raymond and Denardis do not include “Protocol number assignment” under the list of critical internet resources but rather under “setting standards” (ibid, p. 590). This has of course been one of the important but contested tasks under the responsibility of ICANN / IANA. Moreover, as the authors themselves point out, elements of internet governance are not governed by a multistakeholder framework (ibid, p. 594).
In her book, Denardis addresses some salient points of concern regarding the governance of the internet’s core. She highlights the tension between commercial and technical interests, the challenge faced by emerging markets with regards to interconnection, and the role interconnection points can play as points of control over the internet (2014, pp. 122-130). The role of the US with regards to ICANN and the root zone file has already been discussed. However, it is important that later on in her book Denardis does point out that, “Internet interconnection, because of its enormous public interest role is a critical part of privatized Internet governance… Interest in interconnection regulation and proposals for government oversight of pricing structures will likely continue to be a central Internet governance concern between content companies, incumbent telecommunications providers, and governments with an interest in particular forms of interconnection monetization” (ibid, p. 226).
The rise in importance of financial and private commercial interests is particularly noteworthy, and likely to continue. Denardis goes on to conclude that, “Coordination and administration necessary to keep the Internet operational require huge financial investment and commitments. Private industry not only performs many aspects of Internet governance, it also funds much of Internet governance, whether Internet exchange points, infrastructure security, network management, and the business models that sustain standardization and critical resource administration.” (ibid, p. 243). This goes beyond simply questions of access to the internet, as private actors are more and more also playing – through infrastructure control- a role in governing expression and intellectual property governance on the internet (Denardis 2012, pp. 734-735).
For Dutton, another seminal author in the area of internet governance, when defining internet governance, “A narrowly defined perspective revolves around the governance of specific, critical Internet resources.” (2015, p. 17). In that paper Dutton does not provide an explicit listing of what he deems to be “critical internet resources”, his discussion of the origins of the debate on internet governance does raise many of the issues mentioned by the previous reports and authors (i.e. ICANN functions, DNS / DNS root, IP addresses, and core protocols) (ibid, pp. 17-18). In an earlier paper, based on comments by Steve Crocker, Dutton laid-out “layers” of internet standards and protocols laid out three layers: “core infrastructure” (routing of data packets; address assignment, domain name translation), application protocols (ranging from the technical ones that assign ports that computers do to more known ones like those managing e-mail), and “telecommunications carrier protocols and standards” (core protocols such as the IP standards) (Dutton and Peltu 2005, p. 9).
13.05.2020, Niamey, Niger.
 It should be noted that, since Mueller’s book has been published, “transition mechanisms” are being developed and implemented by some operators and / or those hosting websites. Some of these are still at the draft stage and being discussed by the IETF.
 Some would argue that the US not participating in the WGIG process was the main issue.
 Full overview taxonomy in annex.
For some reason, I’m not sure why, I had to think of Binyavanga Wainaina. He was a Kenyan author (died last year), known internationally mainly by wining the Cain Prize in 2002 and his 2005 Granta essay (or rather, “satirical article”), “How to Write About Africa”. The essay made a huge impression on me, both because of its subject and its style.
Binyavanga, arguably, died way too young and never got to write his great novel. Yet his presence in the media and in other writing formats, to me, make him an exceptional African artist and intellectual. Dealing, as an African, with issues such as HIV and homosexuality, only making him politically and socially significant as well. He discussed all of this candidly in an interesting interview with the Guardian.
Issues around identity (in particular the social and collective components of identity) very much interest me. Hannah Arendt of course is particularly interesting from this perspective, but so is Binyavanga Wainaina.
05.05.2020, Niamey, Niger.
We’re still in Niamey… So far, so good, at least for us personally. Nevertheless, a few repatriation flights have taken place, so it feels strange to be here. (We’re not the only foreigners still here, but you can sense there’s less of us, understandably so). The closure of the school’s been extended, warning posters have gone up all around Niamey, and a curfew has been put in place (from 19:00 to 6:00). More worrying, there are more and more cases and Africa (in Niamey, Niger and throughout Africa). Of course, the medical capacity in Niger is dramatic when compared to the West or richer Asian countries. There is some hope that Africa may be less hard than other parts of the world (e.g. because the virus seems to have less impact on younger people and the population in Africa tends to be younger) but you can also argue the other way (e.g., as people have more underlying health issues and less access to medical care, the impact could be larger).
One thing that seems clearer, is that the impact on the global economy is likely to be large. In the US, throughout Asia and in the EU, there has been a huge drop in economic activity, massive rises in unemployment claims, and certain reduction in overall growth. Around the world, in particular in richer countries that can afford to, massive action – often unimaginable a few weeks ago- has been taken to limit the damage. Even the IMF is enthusiastically supporting expenditure.
For African countries, the scope of economic tools is limited. McKinsey has provided an overview, including a range of scenarios. Even the minimum foreseen drop in GDP – 3% - would have significant consequences in a country like Niger (of course, the estimation is not country by country but total). Furthermore, with large informal sectors, much of the damage will be difficult to assess and help difficult to direct. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that food security – for example in West Africa – could be impacted. And while the shift of much of the aid sector (in particular with regards to health) to Covid 19, one does wonder what the overall impact will be with regards to the overall health sector and more structural diseases like malaria, diarrhea and TB that kill hundreds of thousands across Africa yearly.
Unfortunately, a further challenge for Africa, in particular its poor. After the financial crisis from 2008, with international solidarity already strained, this will not be easy.
08.04.2020, Niamey, Niger.
Of course, I would have liked to write a sharp blog on the current health crisis and Africa. However, at the moment little is known about the virus and in particular about how present it is and what the long-term impact on African health systems and economies could be. However, the amount of confirmed cases is increasing, there is a lot to be worried about. The stress the virus has caused to health systems in rich countries such as Italy or Spain mean that a full outbreak in a developing country would potentially be disastrous. And the impact on a population facing other challenges (e.g. malnutrition, HIV, malaria, etc.…) is hard to predict. The economic impact – with collapse of demand from China for natural resources and the fall in the price of oil – is set to be massive as well.
On a personal note, from a position of privilege compared to most of the local population, we have had to decide weather to return to Europe or stay in Niamey as the borders of Niger (and the EU) close and most airlines are stopping flights around the world. With so many variables (For how long are the border closures and flight suspensions? Will there be an outbreak here and what will impact be? How will the outbreak progress in Europe?) and the range of things to consider (e.g. other health risks here – in particular for children, security concerns, etc.…) it is practically impossible to make a reasoned decision. In any case, we have decided to stay.
Once again, the question is if the world will learn from this crisis. As a recent commentary in the Lancet has put it: “The COVID-19 outbreak is yet another reminder of the necessity of intensified and sustained commitment to global public health preparedness. The world does not need more evidence of the health, social, economic, environmental, and other problems that arise when we fail to invest adequately in global health security. What is required to break this panic-then-forget cycle is to follow through on prioritising, funding, and implementing preparedness interventions.” Even within the EU collective coordination and support of the emergency response has been challenging (let alone overall and forward-looking policies when the pressure will be less). Responses to 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis and global (lack of) give little reason to be optimistic. Once again, we are in this together though…
19.03.2020, Niamey, Niger.
I’m working on an essay (thesis) for a course, and the subject is the participation of Africa in internet governance.A big topic – and a target of 15 000 words for the essay – so my plan is to break down parts for this blog.With the recent EU Joint Communication on Africa mentioning a “partnership for digital transformation”, the topic is clearly in the “zeitgeist”.(I would of course point out that I decided on my topic many months ago…)I won’t add the bibliography for the blog posts – maybe at the end I’ll upload the final thing with the full bibliography, but all references are available if needed.This first entry is from the background, dealing with the importance of “digitalization" in general.
The development of information and communication technologies (ICTs), so-called “digitalisation”, and the “internet economy” are all having a profound impact on society and the economy. According to a recent UN report, “Digital technologies are rapidly transforming societies and economies, simultaneously advancing the human condition and creating profound and unprecedented challenges.” (UN 2019, p. 6). According to one author, “Networked digital information technology looms ever larger in all of our lives. It shapes our perceptions, conditions the choices available to us, and remakes our experience of space and time.” (Greenfield 2018, p. 8).
There is no clear consensus on what should be included in the “digital sector”, which can include everything from hardware (e.g., mobile phones), e-commerce, paid services, free services, advertising, dta, etc… which can be difficult to clearly value (IMF 2018, pp. 1-2). A 2011 report by McKinsey stated that 21 percent of GDP growth in mature economies the previous 5 years was linked to the internet (Manyika and Roxburgh 2011, p. 1). The World Bank, based on other work by McKinsey, estimates that in 2014 the financial worth of cross-border data flows was US $ 2.8 trillion; 45 times more than in 2005 (World Bank 2018, p. xv). E-commerce sales in 2017 were estimated to be US $ 29 trillion, growing 13% from the year before (UNCTAD 2019a). Digital data and so-called “platformisation” (referring to businesses like Facebook, Uber and Amazon that function like global platforms) are key elements of this new economy: seven of the eight largest companies in terms of market capitalization are platforms that work with data (UNCTAD 2019, p. xv). Haskel and Westlake have focused on the “intangible” dimension of this “new economy” (i.e., the large companies in this new world often have limited capital – much of their value is based on technology and branding), and show – as an example – that investment in intangible assets as share of GDP in the EU is catching up with investment in tangible assets as a result of technological change (2018, p. 26). Just to illustrate the point, the market capitalization of Amazon on March 7th, 2018 was larger than Walmart, Target, Carrefour, Tesco and the 7 following largest retailers combined (2018, p. 3).
Looking forward, there is no reason to believe that the impact of ICT changes and digitalisation will lessen. In fact, there are many reasons to believe it might even intensify and accelerate. Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, web-based services / cloud computing, mobile-based services, and even e-commerce are still in their infancy. In many ways, this may amount to a new industrial revolution, and the impact on states and society could be similar (Medhora 2018). According to the Internet Society, “In a hyperconnected economy, no sector of the economy will be untouched by technology… This rapid change will disrupt businesses and increase pressure on societies, in particular on jobs and economic opportunity. Business models and the nature of work will be profoundly changed.” (2017, p. 25). Inevitably this will also impact Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where there are a range of low- and middle-income countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as defined by the UN.
16.03.2020, Niamey, Niger.
 Specific definitions and list of platforms vary in the literature, for a good overview see Poell, Nieborg and van Dijck 2019).
Online encampment of A. S. Barry. Disparate and not-so-disparate thoughts on international relations, development, writing, and life.