ICT Africa Writer
May 4, 2013
Cyberpunks are revolutionary advocates of change through the use of the Internet. They typically use cryptography (encryption of communications) to maintain privacy as they interact with one another on the Internet. Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder used to be a leading cyberpunk back in the 1980s. In a new book, Cyberpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet
, Assange and other cyber-activists examine the future of the Internet and human freedoms. Their analysis has a lot of relevance to the growing use of the Internet and human rights in Africa.
In the book, Assange and a small group of his highly skilled comrades discusses whether the electronic communications revolution will enslave or liberate us. They looked at the social media and wondered whether, instead of liberating us, it will serve as “the greatest surveillance machine that ever existed”, exposing our activities on the Internet and giving away our locations at any given moment. They also looked at positive aspects of cyber-surveillance such as the combating of money laundering; drug trafficking, terrorism and child pornography.
As Africa races to catch up with the rest of the world and reduce the digital divide that exists, most of the concerns addressed in the book become all too relevant to Africa. An African government official gave a presentation recently on combating cyber-attacks on his e-government services and that his government was working with overseas governments to put systems in place to monitor activities of people on the Internet. After his presentation, I walked up to him and asked if there was no thin line between monitoring people on the Internet to combat cyber-crime and to curtail people’s freedom of communication. The government official’s response was very frank and to the point. “Unfortunately, a thin line does exist”, he answered; speaking softly so that his superior who was chatting with other people nearby could not hear him.
When you have government institutions that exploit state machinery to protect corrupt and repressive individual politicians, there becomes a real danger that cyber-surveillance can be manipulated to victimise those who threaten the privileges of the megalomaniac elite. In fact, in some African countries where the protection of the welfare individual politicians has become more important than the protection of the state, any surveillance is likely being used for the same purposes.
We have reported in the past that a number of African countries, including Zambia and Zimbabwe, had acquired Chinese technologies to monitor the activities of their citizens on the Internet. While a lot of people understand that these technologies can help combat cyber-crime, there is a very serious concern that the technologies can also be abused to deny lawful citizens their rights to free speech. More recently, the Nigerian government is reported to have offered an Israeli company, Elbit Systems, a $40M contract to monitor electronic communications by Nigerians. Most Nigerians are concerned that the Israeli technology may be used to suppress the rights of Nigerians.
Perhaps the most intriguing African cyberpunk and an African version of Julius Assange is a Zimbabwean character we reported about earlier and who goes by the nom du plume Baba Jukwa
. The harassment of WikiLeaks and Julius Assange by Western Governments for leaking damaging classified information pales compared to what could happen to Baba Jukwa
if his true identity is ever exposed. If his claims are anything to go by, Baba Jukwa
could be assassinated. His Facebook and Twitter accounts have been hacked into several times and some of his damaging posts deleted. It is rumoured that the secret service in Harare, Zimbabwe, is responsible for the attacks on his social media accounts.
As more and more Africans try to take advantage of the Internet to express free speech which they are usually denied, repressive governments are working tirelessly to snatch away that freedom. More and more Africans will have to become cyberpunks of sorts to avoid being monitored as they lawfully express their God given right to free speech.