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DIGITAL RIGHTS AND WRONGS

When you read the headline “Somalia will turn off social media access to stop high school exam cheating” it’s difficult not to smile at the idea a high school exam could lead to a country effectively shutting down half the internet. Somalia isn’t the first country this has happened with exams, we saw the same in Algeria last year and Ethiopia in 2017.

And yet, it’s clear blocking social media for an entire country over school exams is an unnecessarily draconian approach to dealing with a domestic problem.

In a very different story, Facebook said it had shut down a network of fake accounts which were used to target African elections including Nigeria, Angola and Senegal. This network was meant to have spent over $800,000 over six years without Facebook detecting it till this April.  As Quartz Africa previously reported there were thousands of fake Nigeria-focused accounts being created on Twitter in the run-up to that country’s elections in February.

These two different issues, social media blocking by authorities and social media hacking raise important questions about the future of digital rights for ordinary Africans. Going by a story we ran this week about MTN, Africa’s biggest mobile operator, that future doesn’t look great.

The 2019 Ranking Digital Rights report says MTN “divulges very little on how it handles personal data and lacks strong governance mechanisms over human rights issues.” When it comes to privacy, the mobile operator provided little information on what data it collects and how long it retains it or if it grants access to third-party members, and didn’t specify its strategy for handling data breaches. Also important is the fact MTN didn’t publish a clear commitment to safeguard net neutrality, and “did not sufficiently disclose its policies for handling government network shutdown orders.”

That last line is a reminder major mobile operators in Africa could do more to stand up to governments when it comes to social media blocks and internet shutdowns.

African internet users are using social media like everywhere else, but unlike users in more advanced economies African users have much less recourse when things go wrong. Even when Facebook admits its system was hacked to influence African elections, it’s unlikely we’ll hear anything about African governments calling in Facebook executives to explain themselves or imposing fines. It means Africans are more vulnerable than ever in our age of digital misinformation.

African governments, perhaps led by the African Union, need to start enforcing the protection of digital rights for their citizens. If there’s an agreed approach they might not resort to blocking the internet as their default position. This may seem unlikely today but it won’t always be.

— Yinka AdegokeQuartz Africa editor

STORIES FROM THIS WEEK

The Oromo slaves bound for Arabia who were taken to South Africa. Long after the Atlantic slave trade was over, the practice of bondage continued across the Indian Ocean until the beginning of the 20th century. One story that exemplifies this is the over 200 boys and girls from Oromia region in Ethiopia who in 1888 were rescued from resale in Arabian markets. 

Jumia is trying to take the high road over a short seller’s fraud claims. After a difficult week which saw its previously high-flying stock fall sharply after fraud accusations by a US short seller, the first post-IPO earnings call for the largest e-commerce operator in Africa offered company executives a chance to respond and attempt to retain investor confidence.

Microsoft is making a $100 million bet on African developers. Microsoft is investing $100 million in opening developer centers in Lagos and Nairobi where it will train software engineers. As Yomi Kazeem writes, the potential of African developers has proven a strong enough pull even for the world’s largest software company.

MTN is listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange—but its shares will likely be out of reach. Africa’s largest telecoms company has completed a direct listing of its Nigerian unit on the local stock exchange. But buying shares in the company that’s now the second most valuable on the Nigerian Stock Exchange is proving difficult with current shareholders showing no interest to sell.

The untold story of the Poles who sought refuge in Tanzania during World War II. In 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union partitioned Poland and deported hundreds of thousands of people to forced labor camps in Siberia. After amnesty was granted to those in the Gulag camps as part of a new Polish-Soviet agreement in 1941, many left for Kazakhstan, Iran, and even made it all the way to East Africa, writes Abdi Latif Dahir.

A Senegalese TV soap gives an authentic voice to women and it’s creating a stir. Africa has seen a wave of TV shows written, directed, or produced by women that push back against the norms of patriarchal society. One in Senegal, Maitresse d’un homme marié(Mistress of a Married Man), has spurred religious clerics to demand it be banned. But as Ciku Kimeria writes from Dakar, it’s attracted advertisers and millions of fans while addressing adultery, polygamy, and domestic violence—all from the perspective of women.

CHART OF THE WEEK

The Trump administration just made its first move in a clampdown on US visas for Nigerians. As part of measures believed to be a clampdown on visa overstays, the United States has indefinitely suspended its interview waiver program for Nigerians seeking to renew visas. The US embassy says one of the reasons it has suspended the program is to “promote legitimate travel.”

OTHER THINGS WE LIKED

Chinese investments are fueling growth in African science. While much of the discussion about China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Africa has been about large infrastructure projects such as roads and railways, it turns out that it has also been impacting science, particularly in areas like agriculture. For Nature, Antoaneta Roussi writes that China-backed research centers are popping up across Africa, starting in Kenya but also countries like Madagascar and Guinea.

The heavy toll of Boko Haram’s war on children. The terrorist group has not only kidnapped minors, but also abuses them, married some off to militants, and used others to carry out suicide attacks. Reporting from Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, Shola Lawal writes for the Mail & Guardian on how the conflict in the region is in many ways a war on children.

Are Nigerians “Black” enough to talk about race? In response to an essay titled, “Why I’m no longer talking to Nigerians about race,” Eniola Anuoluwapo Soyemi for Republic magazine pushes back at the notion Nigerians lack nuance and sensitivity on race discussions. Soyemi argues the framing of the argument is problematic. “To stay forever mired in the framework that racism proposes is to give it philosophical credence where it has none; and to be perpetually engaged in the work of ‘distraction’.”

ICYMI

Residency for artists. The “Visas for Creation” program allows emerging artists working in disciplines including visual arts, architecture, fashion, theater, and design across Africa and the Caribbean can apply to undertake residencies in France to create or research their projects. (May 31)

Japan Africa Dream Scholarship. The joint African Development Bank and Japan initiative grant two-year scholarships to those pursuing graduate degrees in energy development and related disciplines. (Aug. 31)

KEEP AN EYE ON

Malawi general election (May 21). Voters will go to the polls to elect a new president, national assembly members, and councilors, in an election dogged by fake news and seen as a test for president Peter Mutharika. 

Kenya rules on lifting the ban on gay sex (May 24). The high court will decide whether to strike down a colonial-era law that criminalizes same-sex relationships. 

Emmanuel Macron to meet eastern Libyan commander. Just a week after meeting Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, military strongman Khalifa Haftar will meet with the French president to discuss how to reopen peace talks. 

*This brief was produced while listening to Khona by Mafikizolo ft. Uhuru (South Africa) inspired by the soundtrack of this viral video of Nigerian models dancing on the catwalk during a Vienna fashion show.

Our best wishes for a productive and thought-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, MTN Nigeria shares and English translations for Senegalese soaps to africa@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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