A number of African nations have been recently considering measures to take greater control of social media and internet usage domestically, and many of these proposals appear to be on the verge of censorship according to proponents of internet freedom. In comparison to the statutes enacted in China, internet freedom in most African countries is still far greater. Notably, most economic experts point to Beijing’s internet censorship laws as a primary inhibitor to the country’s continued economic growth. In this manner, there are numerous lessons in internet censorship that African nations can learn from China in order to avoid potentially harming their economic potential.
The Economic Impact of Internet Censorship
China has some of the world’s strictest internet usage policies, and, according to many experts, this censorship has a huge impact on stifling innovation within the country. Despite the record levels of economic growth that China has experienced over the past few decades, many economists have suggested that the country’s strict internet controls have had the effect of reducing innovation and making it much harder for online companies to gain a foothold in the local market.
There is no doubt that banning university students and researchers from accessing foreign websites and publications limits their ability to stay current with industry developments and unearth new and inventive ideas. Concurrently, some economists have suggested that Beijing’s strict control over the internet has actually helped in enabling China to become the world’s biggest leader of e-commerce. Hence, some are suggesting that Beijing has actually been able to strike the perfect balance between ‘freedom and order; openness and autonomy.’
Some Level of Control is Beneficial
Judging by the evidence, China’s level of internet control has had both positive and negative impacts on the country’s economic growth. On one hand, the internet censorship has definitely stifled creativity and internet innovation—making it much harder for internet startups to jump through all of the legal loopholes necessary to get off the ground. Simultaneously, the strict internet controls have helped to drastically reduce the risk of online fraud and thus enabled Chinese consumers to shop online with a much higher degree of confidence.
The African Internet Experience
Presently, nations including Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, and Ethiopia have some of the strictest internet censorship laws not only in Africa, but the world. Similarly, countries like Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda only allow their citizens a partially free internet experience. Based on China’s statutes, these countries could unfortunately be harming their potential for future growth by limiting their citizens’ access to valuable online resources. Alternatively, one could also make an argument that stronger internet control and censorship could help these African nations cut down on the rampant challenges of corruption and online fraud.
Ultimately, it will be up to each African nation to decide for itself whether a higher degree of internet censorship will aid in reaching its economic goals. However, looking at the Chinese model, it seems that trying to greatly control the internet may eventually end up costing Africa in terms of innovation and forward-thinking. For this reason, it seems that African nations typically have more to learn from the European and American prototypes of internet freedom than they do from China’s restrictive internet censorship.