Based on series 1, it’s not far fetched to consider the internet in Uganda, a tool that aids the exclusion of other people, mostly the poor and vulnerable, by creating a unique and privileged class of users.
Indeed, in conclusion, series 1 asked the question: How do we get this cacophony of internet blessing and curse, right?
The answer is not straight
It’s apparent from the discussion in series 1 that the internet access debate and the consequences thereof, focus on two interest groups. The modern, sophisticated internet-citizen and the seemingly lesser peer that, however, lives happily in internet blindspots. And we shared a practical example of a happy family in rural Uganda (Nakabugu), that survives on subsistence agriculture. The internet means nothing to them.
But, should we not take a step back and ask why we at the Effectiveness lab, and hopefully yourself, ‘bother to bother’ about such dichotomy in the community. After all, each stakeholder group enjoys its unique space, and isn’t complaining – are they?
At the Effectiveness lab, we are interested in anything effectiveness. And we ask the question – albeit indirectly: do you require internet to have relevance in life and remain a productive member of the society?
- Can you choose to disregard the internet?
- If you choose to ignore the internet, what do you miss and can the effects of the lack of access be mitigated successfully?
- Is internet citizenry a license to a better life?
- Are bonafide internet citizens more successful than their opposite peers?
Again, the answers aren’t straight and to do justice to the critical question: ‘who of the two stakeholder groups are cursed/blessed?’, we explore below, what brownie points, the so-called internet citizens get from their internet-passport, compared to their commonly lesser peers (read: non-internet citizens).
First, the Internet citizens: many benefits accrue from such citizenry – access to instant news and other information, which makes individual and group planning and decision making pretty effective; education in and out of school is happening on the internet and is pretty cheap; banking is now an internet thing, and brick and mortar banks are disappearing; goods and services are bought online and delivered home without you ever getting out of your home; certain government services can only be accessed via the internet, the IoT is increasingly taking over the management of home and office tasks, etc
But it’s not all smooth sailing for the internet citizen in Uganda – addiction to the internet is a problem and is causing all sorts of mental issues for the internet-citizen; information oversupply is so bad that it’s becoming impossible to wade through the terabytes of data and information and make decisions quickly – it’s a typical case of overkill, and with it, ineffectiveness is abound; the 24/7 lifestyle is killing humans – stress and other NCD’s are on the rise. Internet- citizenship doesn’t come cheap. There is a cost to human quality of life.
On the other hand, non-internet Citizens: believe it or not, enjoy certain benefits, and pretty ‘hygienic’ benefits at that – without the social, emotional and economic burdens of the internet, one thing is assured for the non-citizen, a zen-like lifestyle, free of the internet pressures and claustrophobia; the life and wellbeing of non-citizens haven’t been hijacked by the smartphone, and they continue to enjoy a non-digital hassle-free experience, where the phone is used for voice and essential data services like financial intermediation; they go to bed at 8:00pm and get enough rest; information is accessed, albeit a bit late, on a need to know basis. Don’t you miss this life?
Yet, the non-citizens also admire certain things from their peers – they get information and news late and suffer intended and unintended exclusion from vital aspects of life/society. Indeed, the power of the internet is such that it has created a whole new world, that is fast becoming the norm; from the latter, 54% of my fellow countrymen and women are excluded. Are they missing out on the fundamentals of power and influence that shape their destiny? Sadly, yes
So who is blessed or cursed of the two?
It’s not like one party doesn’t need the other’s blessings. We wish we could tell you, with certainty, which of the two parties is blessed or cursed.
Truth be told, the Internet-citizens admire certain positives from the non-citizens and vice versa. It’s a matter of managing the extremes on both sides. And also, the internet is so powerful a system, that even us at the Effectiveness lab, have to pick our battles.
The two citizenship types aren’t mutually exclusive. Unawares, the non-citizens benefit from internet usage, albeit, indirectly. For example, local government offices in rural Uganda, including Nakabugu, use the internet. When the local authorities do the latter, mainly to aid decision making – they provide better quality services to those in the internet blind-spots.
We, therefore, conclude that both constituents in this discourse, can’t continue to occupy the extreme spaces, on matters internet and its usage.
Governments should develop an internet policy that ensures the internet non-citizens aren’t totally excluded from accessing and using a system that continues to shape work approaches, the behaviour of the society and ultimately has a significant influence on productivity, critical information, and decision making plus resource allocation.
The government can’t also disregard the negative impact, especially socio-emotional, of full internet citizenry. Like we suggested above, there ought to be an internet governance framework – that at the very least articulates internet usage best practice for Ugandans. Increasingly, internet-citizenship is accompanied by addiction habits that individuals need professional support to drop or control – internet/smartphone detoxing.
Granted, the internet is a must. However, internet usage has to be accompanied by sustainable governance mechanisms. A nation with both internet addicted and excluded citizens is a nation bound to fail at nation-building and sustenance