The 2012 “Information Economy Report” released today by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) should act like a waking call for all the countries which doesn’t fully understand yet how the digital revolution is rapidly changing the structure of economic and political power in the world.
This revolution creates opportunities, but also comes with some risk for countries which can’t move fast enough, or which doesn’t have the intellectual power and social organization to compete. Weak countries will be Digitally colonized.
Countries which missed the industrial revolution ended up to be all colonized, in the same order countries which will miss the digital revolution will suffer the same fate, and invariably will suffer the consequences for a long period of time.
As the report points out, some developing countries like African countries are so poorly prepared to compete in this new digital area and will certainly, in my conclusion, be “digitally colonized”.
For example, the report highlights how a big and wealthy country like Nigeria still imports 90% of all software used in the country. The local production of software is reduced to addons or extensions creation for mainstream packaged software.
The 100+ IT companies in Nigeria mainly engage in integration, maintenance and customization services for commercial packaged software for public institutions, banks, energy and telecom companies.
In today’s troubled world, where countries spy on each other through the internet, where some countries electronically attacks other countries, where some governments sponsor virus and Trojan creation to support their political agenda, how African countries defend their domestic telecommunication systems, water and banking system when there is no strong local hub of well trained and world class software engineers and hackers who could assist their governments to preserve their country digital independence.
The future wars will be digital wars.
Earlier in 2008, some analysts like Coelynn McIninch cautioned us: “Unlike the traditional turn-of-the-century colonization that included physical occupation, oppression and exploitation, today’s communication technologies virtual eliminate the need for a costly physical insurgence. The reasons behind the push for technology in non-tech cultures are actually quite similar to that of the early European colonists.
Just like the more noble ideas of imperialism and colonization, today’s invading tech cultures are viewing the whole negotiation from a position of privilege and power that blinds them to the structure and balance that may be present in a non-tech society.
Forces of oppression are not always so obvious as stolen land or military presence. Accelerated rates of innovation and consumption reinforce the imperialistic nature of technological advances.
Any society that does not possess enough wealth to research, build and mass produce the technology on their own soil will inevitable be left behind technologically granting outside companies and countries the power to control the shape and scope of technology within that society.“
Chris Uwaje, Known as the Oracle of the Nigerian IT Industry, “predicted that the digital colonization issue will one day become the critical heart of the matter in the emerging information society, warning that sooner or later, the entire life, culture and sovereignty of a nation and her citizenry may be unwittingly traded off and taken over by IT-smart, powerful and knowledge-centered information forces around the globe” – Vanguard
In his new book “e-knowledge – Time is running out!”, Chris Uwaje loudly wondered “For how long can we continue to be under the digital colonies of the developed economies? Can we ever take the bull by the horn and prepare for the challenges ahead in the 21st century knowledge economy?
Time may be running out if Nigeria and the rest of the African nations fail to prepare the way to emerge in the global information society stage.
Some shortsighted nations will wake-up at midnight – one day, in the early decades of this century – and suddenly realize that they have been digitally colonized! The resultant effect of this probability will seriously impact on future generations to come. In my candid opinion, this digital colony issue will one day become the critical heart of the matter in the emerging Information Society. It simply means that the entire life, culture and sovereignty of a nation and her citizenry have been unknowingly traded off and taken over by IT-smart, powerful and knowledge-centered information force and/or forces around the globe. This will complete the process of the fearful “knowledge lock-in” syndrome.
We should not be enslaved by IT produced by other countries otherwise we will remain a digital colony of these nations. Today is a good beginning as time is running out. We need to be IT conscious in our national policy.”
The UNCTAD report makes it clear the “the ability of a country to adopt, adapt and develop appropriate technological solutions and applications depends on the strength of its domestic capabilities. This applies in particular to the area of software, as this concerns a general-purpose technology with relevance to a wide range of economic and social development”
Nigeria and African governments have to fight for their digital independence. Currently Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Orange (France Telecom), and a bunch of international corporations controls the digital assets and the main infrastructure of the African Internet.
Individually and collectively these companies know more about African populations (intention, sentiments, behaviors, etc.) than the African governments. Even if these companies will be opened to share those information with the African governments, most of them are not organized and staffed adequately to deal with them.
I’m always shocked when some African governments receive computers and electronic devices as donation from foreign governments that they install in their country parliament, or for use by their high level officers. This is just another African naivety. It’s like USA giving as donation computers to China to empower their parliament and government capabilities. Vice Versa!
Above are my personal takeaways from the report, though the UNCTAD report mainly focus on the economical aspects of the digital revolution.
The main finding of the report is that, “because software is increasingly permeating societies at all levels of development and activity, it is becoming more important for countries to develop the technological capabilities needed to adopt and adapt existing software solutions, and eventually to innovate.”
And the main conclusion of the report is that “Developing countries, with the burgeoning skills of their domestic software writers, should seek to expand the creation of software that meets local needs and capabilities as a means of increasing income and addressing broader economic and social development goals.
Failure to develop those skills may instead hamper the prospects for a in increasing economic inequalities and digital divides.”
There are lot of stuff to learn from the report even it’s written in this very bureaucratic UN style. I recommend it. It’s only 142 Pages. Here is a link to download it: http://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=271