"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
Coronavirus / Covid 19?
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.
Internet, Digital, and Africa? (Part 1)
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.