Towards an Accessible and Affordable Internet in Africa: Key Challenges Ahead

The internet plays a vital role in the realisation of human development and facilitates the enjoyment of several human rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression and information, the right to education, the right to assembly and association. Over the last few years, Africa has experienced exponential growth in internet access spurred by mobile internet, which stood at 28% penetration in 2020. However, internet access and affordability are still major challenges for the majority of Africans, especially the rural poor, women, and persons with disabilities. According to the State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2021, Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest coverage gap (those living in areas without mobile broadband coverage) at 19%, which is more than three times the global average. While internet access has become more affordable, particularly on mobile phones, costs are still high and unaffordable to many in the region, who remain offline. The lack of internet access requires immediate counter action by several countries especially given the overbearing effects of digital exclusion caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Countries with better access to online platforms for business and education are reaping faster economic rebounds compared to unconnected economies. This brief explores some of the retrogressive measures that undermine citizens’ rights to access a reliable and affordable internet in Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Some of these measures include digital taxation that hasled to increases in internet costs, registration and licensing of online users that impose high licensing fees and tough penalties, network disruptions including internet shutdowns leading to inaccessibility of the internet, and the failure to provide enabling infrastructure that exacerbates the digital divide.