Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Watching and Calculating, African Governments Learn From the Arab Spring

It's no secret that Africa houses some of the longest-serving and most repressive dictators on the planet. Even among the states that have progressed past authoritarian rule, many governments still restrict basic rights with heavy-handed and often violent tactics. It's also no secret that Africa has the smallest Internet penetration of any continent, though it also cannot be denied that the advent of cheap, web-enabled phones has been precipitating broad changes in the continent's Internet landscape. Up until recently, these two facts may have seemed only peripherally related. Most governments had taken a pretty laissez-faire approach to the Internet; it wasn't enough of an issue for most leaders to take the time to learn about, let alone address with policy. But as the Arab Spring continues to roar just a stone's throw North, tremors have rippled well into the heart of the continent. In response, many African governments have begun taking strong stances on Internet freedoms, even before most of their populations have had the chance to experience the free and open Internet as it was originally formulated.

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