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China, Africa, and the Future of the Internet

Blessed with generous government-backed loans and low-cost, high-quality equipment, Chinese technology companies have transformed African telecommunications. Millions can now connect for voice and data using devices made by Tecno, Huawei, and ZTE among countless others. Similarly, in media, private companies like StarTimes and state-backed propaganda outlets like CGTN now reach tens of millions of consumers across the continent.

That China has wired up the continent and provided millions of people with affordable communications tools is undeniably a good thing.

“China has demonstrated its readiness to invest in areas deemed by foreign investors and donors as too risky, not sufficiently profitable, or not high priorities in the aid agenda.” — Iginio Gagliardone from his new book “China, Africa, and the Future of the Internet

But Chinese technology in Africa is also a source of considerable controversy with the spread of surveillance technologies that are being used by governments to monitor and suppress dissent. Similarly, Chinese-produced artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies are making their way to places like Zambia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe and other countries, prompting legitimate concerns that Beijing isn’t just exporting equipment but also a culture of surveillance.

Wits University scholar Iginio Gagliardone is among the world’s leading experts on the rise of Chinese technology in Africa. He joins Eric and Cobus to discuss his new book, “China, Africa, and the Future of the Internet” published by Zed Books in South Africa.

Show Notes:

About Iginio Gagliardone:
Iginio Gagliardone is Research Fellow in New Media and Human Rights in the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford. His research focuses on the complex relationship between new media, political change, and human development and on the emergence of distinctive models of the information society in the Global South. His past and current research projects have explored this relationship from different perspectives: from assessing the role of new media in peace-building and state-building in East Africa, to examining the increasing role of emerging powers, especially China, in shaping the development of information societies in Africa. His most recent research projects explore the nature and significance of hate speech online, with a particular emphasis on the trade offs between freedom of expression and human dignity, and on how social networking platforms are responding (or failing to respond) to the challenges hate speech presents.

Iginio completed his PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science, investigating the relationship between development and destabilization in Ethiopia. He is also Research Associate of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at the University of Cambridge and of the Centre for Global Communication Studies (CGCS), Annenberg School of Communication, University of Pennsylvania.


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