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  • Negotiating the Net in Africa: the politics of internet diffusion
  • Olga Morawczynski
Ernest J. Wilson and Kelvin R. Wong (eds), Negotiating the Net in Africa: the politics of internet diffusion. Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers (hb $55 – 978 1 58826 421 3). 2006, 238pp.

Negotiating the Net in Africapresents an in-depth analysis of internet expansion in six African countries: Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania. According to the authors, the main goal of this analysis is to provide an ‘aggregate understanding’ of the reasons for the spread of the internet. Politics and policy are made central to this understanding.

The authors present an analytical framework, which they call ‘Negotiating the Net’ (NTN). This model identifies and incorporates analytical categories termed critical negotiation issues (CNIs). These CNIs are meant to give focus and structure to the complexity of the political processes that accompany internet diffusion. Four major categories of CNIs are identified: (1) policy reform issues (privatization, liberalization, regulation); (2) access issues (access to facilities, monopoly pricing, access legality); (3) national information communication technology (ICT) policy issues (information society, universal access and services, policy-making capacity, implementation capacity); (4) technical issues (internet exchange points (IXP) and voice-over internet protocol (VOIP)). The authors present the CNIs as being extremely politically sensitive. They argue that, if unresolved, these issues can impede successful internet expansion drastically.

After introducing the CNIs, the book proceeds to give a detailed analysis of the internet diffusion process in the six countries. Each contributing author identifies and ranks the four CNIs that had the greatest impact. They also give a detailed explication of how these negotiations proceeded and who was involved. These chapters highlight the particularities of diffusion in each country, and give attention to the political situation. For example, in Rwanda the military restricted telecommunications sector reform. In the context of post-genocide insecurity, they were afraid that ICTs could be used to incite violence. In Kenya, the political system thrived on limiting access to information under President Moi. It was not until the introduction of multi-party democracy that internet service provider (ISP) licences were granted and diffusion rates increased dramatically. In both of these cases, the CNIs were contingent upon the political situation in the country. There is also a chapter dedicated to the role of international cooperation in internet [End Page 630]diffusion. In this chapter, the author explains how international donors struggled to topple public sector monopolies and encourage liberalization policies in African countries.

The book concludes by comparing and contrasting the CNIs. It also emphasizes the CNIs, such as privatization and liberalization, which the editors consider most important for diffusion. Process commonalities are also discussed. It is noted, for example, that the stakeholders are consistent amongst the case studies. The first to challenge state-run telecommunications companies were non-governmental actors, such as small private ISPs. It is also noted that the countries with cooperation amongst four sectors – public, private, non-profit, and research and education–were best able to accelerate and sustain the rate of diffusion.

The contribution of this book lies in the presentation of the NTN model. It conceptualizes and prioritizes a set of processes that the African countries faced during the phases of diffusion. It bases this model on two years of empirical evidence. During this period, field interviews were conducted in the six countries with key actors. Local records were also reviewed. The weakness of this work is that it fails to incorporate the perspective of the constituents. Most of the case studies did not explicate whether there was a demand for internet services, or whether such demand had to be crafted through creative marketing. The case could be different in each country. This is extremely important, as public pressure for internet services could affect the nature of political negotiations, which in turn determines diffusion. Despite this shortcoming, the NTN model presented in this collection provides policy makers and practitioners with a framework for understanding the key hurdles to innovation – not only with the internet but with ICTs in general. [End Page 631]

Olga Morawczynski
University of Edinburgh


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