Concept Note (excerpt)
In July 2020, when China’s Huawei proposed a new Internet Protocol (IP) to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 10 African countries allied with China including Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe(Tugendhat & Voo, 2021, p. 19). Experts are concerned that China’s new IP proposal limits interoperability which is “most likely to result in a fragmentation of the global Internet into islands running different protocol stacks”.  The fragmentation of the internet into several parts across national borders is called the splinternet. Some of the causes of the fragmentation of the internet include Data laws (laws and politics); Application layer (website ranking locality); Network interference events, IPv6 adoption (transfer data between networks), and No proxy (transfer data within a local network).  The causes fall into the following categories: nationalizing software and regulations, nationalizing hardware networks, and nationalizing networks (Lemley, 2020). Hence, there are indications that US-China technology decoupling could result in nationalizing hardware networks and nationalizing networks. While the US and its partners seek to strengthen the multistakeholder approach to internet governance, China promotes a Cybersovereignty model of internet governance in which the state has control over the internet. The overriding objective of China’s cyber sovereignty model is to: “prevent the flow of information that threatens domestic stability, foster technological independence, and counter U.S. influence” (Segal, 2020, 92). The after-effect will be the emergence of US and Chinese versions of the internet.
Much of the debate on internet fragmentation has occurred in the Global North with an advanced form of democracy. But the African continent is not immune from the fragmentation of the internet considering that China and the US telecom companies are the leading providers of ICT infrastructures on the African continent. While Chinese ICT firms, Huawei and ZTE account for building more than 70% of the ICT infrastructure on the African continent, western companies have not been left out (Corrigan, 2020).
On the other hand, African countries are not empty containers that adopt foreign technologies without mediation. Gagliardone (2019, p.7) points out that “African states, rather the being passive recipients of blueprints developed elsewhere, have demonstrated remarkable skill in making use of Beijing’s openings in the ICT sector to bolster their development projects”. While this is true, there is no African-wide regulatory instrument for mediating foreign influences in the digital technology space such as the EU’s GDPR. However, national regulatory laws could be activated but how far they could go for an individual African country is debatable.
This workshop examined the implications of the US-China technology decoupling for the future of the internet in Africa. For instance, in what ways will African countries respond to the fragmentation of the internet into the US and Chinese versions?
The workshop explored the following interrelated objectives:
- What are the implications of US-China technology decoupling for the internet in Africa?
- What is the implication of China’s Digital Silk Road for internet governance in Africa?
- Will US-China technology decoupling result in the fragmentation of the internet in Africa?
- What are the consequences of a bifurcated internet in Africa-internet shutdowns, a Chinese version of the Internet, an Africancentric internet or US-led internet, Cybersovereignty versus multistakeholder model of internet governance?
- What are the implications of US-China technology decoupling for internet governance norms in Africa?
- What are the implications of US-China technology decoupling for freedom of information and political pluralism in Africa?
- What are the roles of local laws in mediating the geopolitics of the internet in Africa?
- What are the roles of ethnicity/religion/ culture in mediating the geopolitics of the internet in Africa?
Bateman, J. (2022). US-China technological “decoupling” a strategy and policy framework Retrieved from carnegieendowment.org/files/Bateman_US-China_Decoupling_final.pdf
Corrigan, T. (2020). Africa’s ICT infrastructure: Its present and prospects. SAAIA Policy Briefing, 197. Retrieved from https://saiia.org.za/research/africas-ict-infrastructure-its-present-and-prospects/
Gagliardone, I. (2019). China, Africa, and the Future of the Internet. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Lemley, M. A. (2020). The Splinternet. Duke LJ, 70, 1397.
Schmidt, E. (2022). Foreword. In US-China technological “decoupling” a strategy and policy framework by J. Bateman, pp ix-xi. Retrieved from https://carnegieendowment.org/files/Bateman_US-China_Decoupling_final.pdf
Segal, A. (2020). China’s Vision for Cyber Sovereignty and the Global Governance of Cyberspace. In R. Nadege (Ed), An emerging china-centric order China’s Vision for a New World Order in Practice, pp. 85-100. Retrieve from https://www.nbr.org/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/publications/sr87_aug2020.pdf
Tugendhat, H., & Voo, J. (2021). China's Digital Silk Road in Africa and the Future of Internet Governance. Working Paper, No. 2021/50, China Africa Research Initiative (CARI), School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC.
White House. (2022). Fact Sheet: United States and 60 Global Partners Launch Declaration for the Future of the Internet. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/04/28/fact-sheet-united-states-and-60-global-partners-launch-declaration-for-the-future-of-the-internet/