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Which African countries have signed the Declaration for the Future of the Internet?

The Declaration for the Future of the Internet (DFI), a common declaration for the regulation of the digital space, has been signed by 61 States. Among them, only four African countries…

Four African countries signed, on April 28, the Declaration for the Future of the Internet (DFI). The document, relating to common principles on the use and regulation of the Internet, looks like an international treaty. When the DFI was signed, four African countries were among the sixty signatories: Kenya, Niger, Senegal and Cape Verde.

A strong statement, because the DFI requires signatories in particular to certify that they are part of "a global internet" where “Governments refrain from shutting down or limiting access to the internet”. But also to “promote the sharing of information on security threats” and prevent “any blocking of content that complies with the principles of net neutrality”.

For an uninformed public, the expressions used in the text of the DFI may sound like boat talk. But it is nothing. The DFI follows discussions at the Democracy Summit last December. The document is an agreement under public international law, with the force of law.

Internet shutdowns in Africa

For the journalist and specialist in Big Data and cyberdefence, Faustine Ngila, internet shutdowns and the blocking of social networks in African countries costs Africa $2 billion every year. According to the British company Top10VPN, 21 African states cut off access to the internet or social networks between 2020 and 2022.

More or less legitimate cuts, and for various and varied reasons. For example, the blocking of social networks in certain African countries was initially a problem of transgression by social media of the national laws of the countries concerned. In others, notably Chad which has the longest outage – WhatsApp was inaccessible for 5 months in 2020 – it was a question of repressing political opposition. As in Tanzania where, the same year, the internet was inaccessible for more than 2 months. In Togo, social network cuts were recorded at the time of the last elections.

However, the DFI was not signed by these African countries accused of "limiting freedom of access to the internet" who refrained from initialing the document, in the same way as other African countries where the internet has not yet never been cut.

According to the American think-tank Brookings Institution, the DFI was set up “to divide the virtual world”. “The Declaration for the Future of the Internet legislates a global divide. (…) It calls for the eventual elimination of countries whose governments are considered authoritarian. It also calls for the concentration of personal data collected, ”says the think-tank.

Who controls the Internet?

Who owns or controls the Internet? Few Internet users know this, but it is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that physically controls the Internet's interconnectivity keys. One of the creators of the Internet protocol, Jon Pastel, was precisely against the first attempts to centralize the Internet protocols within the same body - which was then the IANA.

Because ICANN was created towards the end of the Cold War, in order to prevent the establishment, by East Germany, of a regulation on the storage and protection of data. A concern shared by Pastel. But in the aftermath of the latter's death, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, ICANN was created, and with it an internet architecture that gives control to a Silicon Valley company.

The "Net neutrality" of which the DFI speaks, began to be legislated after the attacks of September 11, 2001. It was a question of defining a legal framework for the electronic correspondence surveillance component of the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorist law American which, among other things, had legitimized torture. A law that has served as comparative law for several legislations, including the majority of anti-terrorism laws in French-speaking African countries. Net neutrality has since manifested itself in the United States in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), or Arcep in France, ECA in Ethiopia, ARTCI in Côte d'Ivoire... In other words, a "internet font".

“Failed attempt to embarrass China and Russia”

With the signature of the DFI, Niger, Senegal, Cape Verde and Kenya adhere to the “sharing of information concerning security threats”. These countries also agree to “promote work to realize the benefits of free data streams with confidence based on shared values ​​as like-minded, democratic, open and outward-looking partners”. In other words, an international Constitution for the use of the Internet, which takes away from the signatory countries the right to cut their connection, even if their national security depended on it.

Read: Is Africa missing out on its cybersecurity?

Indeed, according to an article titled "Multi-Stakeholder Internet Governance", signatory countries are obligated to "protect and strengthen the Internet's governance system, including the development and deployment of its core technical protocols and other standards and related protocols”.

Brookings Institution considers the statement "divisive", and considers that it is "a failed attempt to embarrass China and Russia". With 60 signatory countries, including almost all of the West, the DFI also seems to be a simple reaction to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. For web specialists, it is an international treaty passed on the sly, forcing signatory countries never to integrate several protocols — X.25, DNIC, etc. — or, for example, a wide area network (WAN) within reach. national. Not to mention, of course, overlay networks and their protocols, like those used for Freenet.

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