By Nnenna Nwakanma, Regional Coordinator for Africa, World Wide Web Foundation
I was in Cape Town, South Africa the night Mandela died. After more than one year of buzz, social media across the world quickly caught on to the news. Millions were paying homage in their manner: changing profile photos to those of Mandela; tweeting with the numerous hashtags, sharing his quotes, their recollections of him, and all things Madiba. Memorial services, concerts, state events, condolence centers, and exhibitions were organized by private companies and groups of individuals across the world.
I decided to travel to Qunu to be part of Mandela’s long walk to his resting place and began to research Internet connection options. In Cape Town, I connected to the Internet via wifi and the data bundle on my phone. I had promised my 5,000+ followers on Twitter that I would be live-tweeting the journey. Dozens had signed up for the #CapeToQunu hashtag. How was I going to keep connectivity on the 20-hour road trip to Qunu and during the burial itself? The battery on my cell phone would not last that long and I was not sure we would have 3G capacity on the road.
Qunu: the unconnected
“We have been deprived of Madiba,” said Buli, a Qunu resident, with his voice full of emotion. “Out there, they don’t know him; here, he is one of us. But they won’t let us see his body. Why will they lay him in state in Pretoria and deprive us villagers of Qunu?”
In the home of the extended Mandela family that hosted us, the total number of computers was zero. I asked if the lady of the house had an email address, and the answer was no. In Qunu, there were no signs of Internet connectivity. If anyone accessed the Internet, it was neither from a wifi connection nor a public access center.
Access to the Internet brings freedom: social, economic and cultural freedom. Unfortunately, Mandela could not finish this walk in Qunu, nor in South Africa. How long will it take to have affordable Internet? How long will it take to connect Qunu, Africa?
There was more than one way to get to Qunu. And there are multiple ways to connect Africans to the Internet. It may be fiber, satellites, television white spaces etc. We need the basic infrastructure laid. It is not enough to connect the cities — people who live in Qunu, in the small villages of Africa need to be connected too. We cannot afford to deprive them.
Global participation: allowing for liberalization
I saw people from all parts of Africa and the world; I was not the only non-South African who did a long road trip to get to Qunu. It won’t be any different in connecting Africa — monopolies and exclusivist tendencies will only lead to poor service and higher prices. Having a sole provider of internet service in a country can only be likened to a situation in which the government of South Africa could have excluded non-South Africans from Mandela’s burial in Qunu.
At every Mandela commemoration event, people sang, they danced, they made others dance. Beyond the challenges of Madiba’s passing, there was a reason to celebrate. Openness, freedom and development must remain our key words as we connect Africa. The Web We Want is one that respects human rights, upholds diversity and supports development.
The whole world unites at the mention of Mandela’s name, and it is because of the ideals he represented: freedom, education, honesty, forgiveness, and unity. The Alliance for Affordable Internet embraces Mandela’s ideal of unity in its quest to make internet affordable across Africa and the world.
We all need to do our parts. The long walk to affordable internet will not be done by Mandela, but by you, by me, and by us!
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