Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

'Africa's father of the internet:' Web pioneer on bringing a continent online

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ghanaian professor Nii Quaynor is an African internet pioneer
  • He was recently inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame
  • He says more African businesses must develop and host content

African Voices is a weekly show that highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. Follow the team on Twitter.

(CNN) -- If you're reading this somewhere in Africa, then perhaps you should thank Nii Quaynor.

The Ghanaian professor is known as "Africa's father of the internet," a web pioneer who helped establish some of the continent's first online connections.

For some 20 years now, soft-spoken Quaynor has been at the forefront of web development across Africa. He is the first African to be elected to the board of ICANN, the internet corporation for assigned names and numbers. He's also played an important part in launching the African Network Operators Group and AfriNIC, the African internet numbers registry.

As a result, Quaynor was recently inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame, lauded as an instrumental figure "in the early design and development of the internet." He is today chairman of Ghana's information technology agency and a professor at the country's Cape Coast University.

Connecting Africa's Internet industries
Africa's role in the World Wide Web

CNN's African Voices spoke to Quaynor about the role of the internet in Africa's development and his dreams for the continent's digital future. An edited version of the interview follows.

CNN: How did you get the title of father of the internet in Africa?

Nii Quaynor: Actually I don't know, but perhaps I made a lot of effort to get my colleagues to understand and to participate and to begin to contribute to the internet. And I have been fortunate with a very good educational background and so I also wanted to impart the knowledge and I was a major contributor in building some of the important technical institutions that make up the internet ecosystem in Africa. In the process of doing that a lot of people perhaps felt that my leadership was good for them, and you might say, gave me that kind of description.

CNN: What is the state of the internet in the continent?

NQ: The health of the internet in Africa is good; we have good connectivity, at least to major capital cities; we also have good wireless through the mobile companies and other forms of connectivity, so connectivity is becoming less of a barrier, except that we are still working on the affordability side of that connectivity.

Read this: 10 African tech startups you need to know

The part that we are yet to, in some sense, make headway is both in the use as well as in we being part of the production side of services for the internet.

We don't have many businesses developing content or hosting content or doing e-commerce -- we have some banks trying to do internet banking, meaning we having companies beginning to adopt it, but we really haven't taken hold of it. Some of it may be because of inadequate policies, because our policies historically have been about the transmission side of things and so we need to take another look at how a country thinks about developing its internet.

We need to really build strong industries that will serve the needs of the one billion people in Africa.
Nii Quaynor, internet pioneer

So we have a big challenge -- actually, we see it as an opportunity. Connectivity is not the problem, now it's shifting to the industry and we need to really build strong industries that will serve the needs of the one billion people in Africa.

Read this: Tech hub working on 'Nigeria's next big idea'

CNN: Do African governments understand the need for connectivity?

NQ: I think governments now do understand; for most governments it's important. They may not know what they want to do with it, but they understand it's very important. That sometimes explains why government actions are seen as not coordinated or erratic, because they think it's very important but they yet don't have a full, sufficient understanding to know exactly how they want to interact with it or manage it or grow it. But certainly they recognize it is very important and many in governments are engaging with the internet technical community and other multi-stakeholder organizations to support them to evolve.

Read this: Dropifi takes on Silicon Valley'

We do understand that usually policy lags behind technology, so some of these sorts of conflicts would occur, but I think we have weathered the storm -- Africa is going beyond those days and now recognizes the importance of it. They are battling with controlling it, and soon we'll convince everyone that there is no need and that the right thing to do is to discipline it and begin to adopt it and make it do the right things for us and help define what Africa wants from the internet, which is not very obvious yet.

CNN: What is your hope for Africa in the future?

NQ: My hope for Africa in the future is that Africa will own its portion of the internet. Africa should strive to participate on its own terms on the internet, not leave it to chance to be determined.

Africa can indeed determine how it wants to play in the internet and Africa should ensure that it is able to create the right policy environment for the internet to grow.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
African Voices
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
The veiled female rapper tackling Egyptian taboos head on
Meet Mayam Mahmoud, the 18-year-old Egyptian singer tackling gender stereotypes through hip-hop.
updated 6:50 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
As the head of Kenya Red Cross, Abbas Gullet was one of the first emergency responders at the Westgate shopping mall.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Wed March 19, 2014
Gikonyo performs a medical check-up for one of her patients at Karen Hospital in Kenya.
Leading pediatric surgeon Betty Gikonyo reveals how her life changed at 30,000 feet and her mission to save the lives of countless disadvantaged children in Kenya.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Biyi Bandele
As a child, Biyi Bandele immersed himself in a world of literature. Today he's taken that passion and turned it into a career as a celebrated writer, playwright and now director.
updated 6:26 AM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
Sanaa Hamri in Los Angeles, 2011.
Music video and film director Sanaa Hamri shares her story of how she made it from the streets of Tangier to the big film studios in the United States.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
African Voices meets James Ebo Whyte a passionate storyteller with a series of successful plays to his credit.
updated 5:16 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 86th Academy Awards nominees luncheon at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 10, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o has become a new critics' darling after her breakout role in last year's hit movie "12 Years A Slave."
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Celebrated designer Adama Paris reveals how she was tired of seeing "skinny blonde models" on all the runways, so she did something about it.
updated 11:48 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Packaging can change how people see things. And when it comes to sex, it could maybe help save lives too.
updated 7:06 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Global perceptions of the tiny country in east-central Africa are often still stuck in 1994 but local photographers are hoping to change that.
updated 5:39 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
Lightenings strike over Johannesburg during a storm on December 14, 2013.
Ending energy poverty is central to a resurgent Africa, writes entrepreneur Tony O. Elumelu.
updated 5:45 AM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
A group of young students have taken stereotypes about the continent -- and destroyed them one by one.
updated 6:14 AM EDT, Tue April 1, 2014
Grace Amey-Obeng has built a multi-million dollar cosmetics empire that's helping change the perception of beauty for many.
Each week African Voices brings you inspiring and compelling profiles of Africans across the continent and around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT