May 25





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Navigating Internet Fragmentation in the African Context: Challenges and Opportunities

Navigating Internet Fragmentation in the African Context: Challenges and Opportunities

As countries across Africa commemorate Africa Day with the theme – Celebrating Past Successes While Building Towards the Future, it is a good opportunity to look at the determining factors that have major roles to play in building towards the future in Africa while we celebrate our past successes. One of those future determining factors is a Unified, interoperable and resilient internet. However, across the vast and diverse continent of Africa, the promise of a seamless digital future is often marred by the spectre of internet fragmentation. From regulatory barriers and infrastructural challenges to linguistic diversity and geopolitical tensions, Africa grapples with many obstacles that threaten to splinter the digital landscape. In this complex milieu, understanding the dynamics of internet fragmentation is crucial for charting a path towards a more inclusive and interconnected digital future. for Africa.

There are many definitions of what internet fragmentation is by many internet governance actors and stakeholders, for this article, the one by DW Akademie which defines it as the trend of different countries or regions implementing their own unique regulations and restrictions on Internet access and content captures it succinctly.

This article will look at the factors that have contributed to the different forms of the manifestation of Internet fragmentation(Challenges)  in the African context and will go further to proffer solutions towards addressing these challenges.

Factors Causing Internet Fragmentation in the African context

One of the primary drivers of internet fragmentation in Africa is the proliferation of divergent regulatory frameworks across different countries and regions. Fragmented regulatory environments, characterized by inconsistent policies, conflicting regulations, and bureaucratic red tape, create barriers to cross-border connectivity and hinder the free flow of information and data. In some cases, governments impose stringent controls over the internet, censoring content, blocking websites, and stifling online dissent in the name of national security or social stability. According to Borg. in their research report Africa’s Internet Control Problem: A Picture of Internet Shutdowns in Africa, 35% of all the Internet shutdowns that happened globally in 2021 were in Africa. This shows how serious this menace is on the continent.

Another significant impediment to a unified digital ecosystem in Africa is the glaring disparity in internet infrastructure and connectivity levels across the continent. While urban centres and coastal regions boast high-speed broadband networks and reliable connectivity, vast swathes of rural and remote areas remain underserved or entirely cut off from the digital grid. Inadequate infrastructure, limited access to electricity, and high costs of internet services exacerbate the digital divide, perpetuating disparities in access to information, education, and economic opportunities.

Africa is home to a rich tapestry of languages, cultures, and ethnicities, presenting both opportunities and challenges for digital inclusion. However, linguistic diversity also contributes to internet fragmentation, as content and services are often predominantly available in a handful of major languages, such as English, French, and Portuguese, neglecting the needs of speakers of indigenous and minority languages. W3Tech estimates that 54.9 percent of websites with known content languages use English, while African languages like Twi, Zulu, Swahili, Afrikaans, Kinyarwanda, and others are used in less than 0.1 percent of websites. As a result, linguistic barriers hinder access to information, limit participation in the digital economy, and exacerbate social inequalities.

 Geopolitical tensions and regional conflicts further exacerbate internet fragmentation in Africa, as governments engage in censorship, surveillance, and cyber warfare to assert control over cyberspace and suppress dissent. Border disputes, political instability, and ethnic rivalries fuel distrust and suspicion among neighbouring countries, leading to the fragmentation of digital infrastructures and the balkanisation of online communities along geopolitical fault lines.

Addressing  Internet Fragmentation in the African Context.

Addressing internet fragmentation in the African context requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach that involves governments, businesses, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders. This approach may include:

Need for Collaboration Among  Member States: Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for collaboration and collective action to mitigate the impact of internet fragmentation and foster a more cohesive digital ecosystem in Africa. Regional organisations, such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), can play a pivotal role in harmonising regulatory frameworks, promoting cross-border connectivity, and facilitating regional cooperation on cybersecurity and digital governance.

Investment in Infrastructure: Investment in Internet infrastructure, particularly in underserved and rural areas, is essential for bridging the digital divide and expanding access to the Internet across Africa. Public-private partnerships, innovative financing mechanisms, and community-driven initiatives can help overcome infrastructural challenges and extend the benefits of connectivity to marginalised communities. One example is the work of Researchers from South Africa’s University of Western Cape who built a local mesh network that enabled cheap and reliable wi-fi in Mankosi, an area home to some 6,000 people. Another example is from Ghana, where a global telecommunication giant Huawei has successfully designed lightweight base stations with concrete-free foundations that can be transported entirely on standard trucks and that use 4G technology to connect with the “donor site” as opposed to satellite and microwave to provide a cheaper and more reliable internet connection. These are solutions that can be replicated in other countries.

Promotion of Multilingualism: Promoting multilingualism on the Internet is essential for ensuring that digital content and services are accessible to speakers of diverse languages in Africa. Efforts to develop and localise digital content, software, and applications in indigenous and minority languages can help overcome linguistic barriers and promote inclusive digital participation. The above could be seen in the success recorded by online platforms, like the Wikimedia projects, digital campaigns, and social media campaigns like Rising Voices’ DigiAfricanLang, which encourage users to contribute translations, transcriptions, and recordings in their native languages.

Fostering Digital Literacy: Promoting digital literacy and skills development is essential for empowering African citizens to participate fully in the digital economy. Governments, educational institutions, and civil society organisations can collaborate to provide training programs and resources that equip individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the internet safely and effectively. Initiatives like Paradigm Initiative’s LIFE Legacy programme, which is being implemented across the continent, offering 10 weeks of training in ICTs, Entrepreneurship, Life Skills and Financial Readiness to youth living in under-served communities and lacking access to tertiary education due to poverty, should be leveraged towards reaching more people especially the youth in Africa.

Advocacy for Digital Rights: Civil society organisations, digital rights activists, and grassroots movements play a crucial role in advocating for digital rights, promoting online freedom of expression, and resisting efforts to censor or restrict the internet in Africa. By raising awareness, mobilising public support, and holding governments and corporations accountable, civil society can push back against internet fragmentation and defend the principles of an open, accessible, and democratic internet.


Internet fragmentation poses significant challenges to the realisation of a connected and inclusive digital future in Africa. However, by addressing regulatory hurdles, investing in infrastructure, promoting multilingualism, and advocating for digital rights, African countries and stakeholders can work together to overcome these obstacles and build a more resilient, equitable, and interconnected digital ecosystem. In an increasingly interconnected world, the vision of a unified and accessible internet for all remains within reach, provided that we seize the opportunities for collaboration and collective action to bridge the digital divide and harness the transformative power of technology for the benefit of all Africans. We want to remind African leaders and other major stakeholders on the continent that by harnessing the transformative power of the internet, Africa can unlock new opportunities for innovation, economic growth, and social development, which will position her to build effectively towards the future.

Ihueze Nwobilor is a Senior Programmes Officer at Paradigm Initiative where he leads the organisation’s Digital Inclusion programmes while advocating for digital rights and an open, accessible, resilient and interoperable internet.


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