Countering China's Monopolization of African Nations' Digital Broadcasting Infrastructure
Authors: George Sarpong & Ishan Sharma
The majority of people living in the African continent access their news and information from broadcasted television and radio. As African countries follow the directive from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to migrate from analog to digital broadcasting, there is an urgent need to sequester the continent’s broadcast signal distributors (BSDs).1 BSDs provide the necessary architecture for moving broadcasted content (e.g., television and radio) into the digital sphere.
Most BSDs in Africa are owned and operated by Chinese companies. Of 23 digitally migrated countries, only four BSDs (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, and Zimbabwe) are officially known to be outside the influence of China-based companies. The implicit capture of the BSD marketplace by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) threatens African democracies and could undermine international partnerships among African nations and with the United States. Excessive Chinese control over African BSDs also raises security concerns and impedes establishment of a robust, competitive, and rules-based global market in communications infrastructure.
The United States should therefore consider the following actions to support African civil society, media regulators, and legislators in securing an information ecosystem that advances democratic values:
Creating a Program on Traditional and Digital Media Literacy within the Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs 2021 Africa Regional Democracy Fund.
Supporting a Regional Digital Broadcasting Coordinator for each of the five African sub-regional groups, via the Digital Ecosystem Fund and the Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership.
Enhancing U.S.-based competitiveness by expanding the Digital Attaché Program to promote alternative BSDs in Africa.
Leveraging the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit proposed in the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act to advance a regulatory and liability framework governing the relationships among BSDs, content producers, and constitutional protections.
About the Authors
George Sarpong has over 20 years experience in media and communications law, policy and regulation in Africa. He is the Executive Secretary of Ghana’s National Media Commission where he coordinates policy interventions to insulate the media from external controls. George has been involved in pro-democracy work across Africa especially promoting freedom and independence of the media. He was a founding team member of the Media Foundation for West Africa and founded the Youth Network for Human Rights & Democracy (you-net), Party Youth Forum and the Young Leaders Program. He was a 2018 Reagan-Fascell Fellow of the National Endowment for Democracy.
Ishan Sharma is a Policy Analyst at the Day One Project and a Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, where he spearheaded a project on emerging technologies and digital repression. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University and has studied jurisprudence and international human rights law at the University of Oxford. Ishan is a board member of two nonprofits that aim to empower youth through mentorship and media literacy, as well as one of 24 Senior John Lewis Fellows around the world investigating the future of democracy, oppression, and human rights in the 21st century.