After a personal experience I had when I was living in Africa, I decided to write an opinion article based on my experience with the aim of highlighting the difficulties many African millennials like myself were facing while trying to access and use the internet for personal purposes and to create innovative solutions for their local communities. I did present the paper at couple of conferences and decided to rest my case. However, after months of writing the paper, I was encouraged to revise and update the paper after i noticed that the concerns i raise in the paper had been cited in the “Commission on Science and Technology for Development” report to the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 2014. This motivated me to revise the paper and submit it to the Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for publication.
Finally, the paper “‘We are connected, but constrained’: internet inequality and the challenges of millennials in Africa as actors in innovation” is now officially out with the Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (2016) 5:3, pp.1-21 in their themetic series on the Catalytic impact of innovation and entrepreneurship on organizational resilience, robustness, and sustainability. And I am so honoured to write the paper with my dear friend Joyce Arawole, who is also the co-founder of the Third Millennium Africa Project, an organisation we both co-founded.
One of the biggest news stories in the past decade has been the increasing impact of the internet and information technology on young people, from first-generation mission countries in North America and Western Europe to the global south—particularly in Africa. This advancement has fueled the growth of a “connected” and “plugged in” cohort of young people known as millennials, who are utilizing this medium to improve their social status and create potential for economic and professional growth. However, while the Internet has created opportunities for growth and development on the continent, many online platforms and services continue to restrict full access to certain parts of the global south. Hence, in some African countries, for example, opportunities for scaling innovation and development can be very difficult to access. Consequently, as our daily activities sync with technology, concerns over access to the Internet economy and the undue restrictions over internet services persist. Using the storytelling research methodology, this paper seeks to highlight why geo-restrictions and regional lockouts over internet-related services seem to be a major challenge for millennials in Africa, who are actors in innovation by virtue of their contribution to the growth of the internet technology. We argue that this enforced regional lockout not only deflates the productivity and creativity of African millennials, but also points to a functionalist view of internet inequality constituted through the “divides” of accessibility, censored participation, and acceptability in the internet economy. Understanding the staggering nature of this problem would require telling the stories of young internet entrepreneurs and innovators in Africa, who continue to be marginalized while investing and contributing to the internet economy.
Keywords: African millennials; Usage access; Narrative inquiry; Storytelling; Internet inequality; Digital development; Internet usage policy