The 2019 edition of the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum enters its second day this morning in Ikeja, Lagos. Participants from across Africa and beyond would take part in today’s event.
Paradigm Initiative, Ford Foundation, Google, Henrich Boll Stiftung, and Premium Times — the major partners for the conference — plan to use this year’s edition to trigger debates on “tough topical global issues around inclusion and digital rights in Africa”.
This edition promises to host 352 delegates from government, civil society, business, academia, media and the private sector, from 38 countries. Of the countries, 32 are from Africa.
Stay on this page for today’s updates.
The Keynote panel features the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, Gbenga Sesan; Executive Director, Human Rights Watch Africa Division, Segun Mausi; and Head of the Senegal Country Office, Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA), Hawa Ba. Mr Sesan says he has “burning question” to ask the panelists.
Mrs Segun said she was driven to fight for the rights of people because of the lapses in the Nigerian legal redress system. She gave account of how a 40-day old baby was raped in Ogun state and she could not get justice for the baby because of legal impediments.
Mr Sesan asked the panelists to give accounts of experiences that interest or delight them in the area of cyber access in the last years, especially in their immediate environment or around the continent.
In her reaction, Mrs Mausi explained the “street activism” in Ethiopia between 2017 and 2018 in the citizens’ desire to contain their authoritarian government. It would perhaps have been impossible for the people to achieve the removal of that government without the power of the internet, she added. “…It gladdens my heart,” she said of the end-result.
“I am glad about Ethiopia,” Mr Sesan said of the Ethiopian experience, adding that he would have been glad if such was the experience in other African countries.
Mrs Ba explained the various inclusion challenges in Senegal and other francophone countries on the continent. She argued that inclusion also gives her hope about the rights of women and use of internet.
Another panelist from Ghana who just joined the conversation, Emmanuela, explained how internet shutdown was averted in Ghana some years ago.
Emmanuela, from the Ghanaian Cyber Security Centre, said the country is now making legislation to ensure that issues of digital rights, inclusion and shutdown are engraved in the law.
Mr Sesan said that countries in Africa need to start telling themselves the “truth”. According to him, countries across the continent need to learn good practices from one another.
Mrs Ba, in her submission, said there should be collaborative efforts horizontally and vertically. She called on the civil society to ensure that the internet is used to uphold best practices and how they can be replicated across the continent. Stakeholders should also desist from playing catch up butt become proactive, she added.
Mrs Mausi said there are the positive and negative sides to freedom of expression. Access, she said, is important and for government to make provision for this. “Too many people are excluded,” she said of internet use.On rural internet penetration, Mrs Mausi said there is need to make it an issue. She warned about policing the internet and called for self-censorship. “If there is an abuse on the internet, call it out,” she said.
The opening panel comes to an end.
Two sessions begin simultaneously. The first is tagged “Moving Policy Makers Into Action to Advance Digital Inclusion – A Candid Conversation” while the second is tagged “5G and Human Rights”.
For the first conversations, the panelists include Funke Opeke, CEO of Mainone; Jane Ergeton-Idehen, Country Manager at Avanti; Monilola Udoh, Director of ICT at the Ministry of Communications, Nigeria; Lanre Osibona, special adviser on ICT to the Nigerian president; Eleanor Sarpong, Deputy Director and Policy lead at Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI); Ernest Ndukwe, National Coordinator of A4AI; Ashnah Kalemera, Programs Manager of CIPESA; and Masimba Biriwasha, Association of Progressive Communications, APC.
In her remarks, Mrs Udoh said Nigeria operates a system that is a sort of irony. “We are so rich and yet so poor,” she said. She added that Nigeria is not doing as it should do to get its priorities right, adding that there has to be collaboration between the private sector and the public sector, to achieve growth and development.
On the efforts of the civil society, Ms Kalemera said there should be more push for the availability of technologies to enable more penetration. She also called for the promotion of software designed in local languages and those that could give access to people with disabilities. For private sectors, she called for more diligent monitoring in the area of compliance and respect for peoples’ rights.
Similarly, she called for collaboration and networking, adding that campaigns should be more innovative and organic. She narrated how issues of human rights violation could be protected in the face of shutdowns.
For Mrs Opeke, the problem isn’t about the lack of policies and ideas on internet inclusion but implementation of those ideas. On the strength of innovative means of access, she explained that focus should be on places outside the major city centres—-Lagos, Abuja, Benin, Portharcout and Ibadan. For NGOs and civil society organisations, she called for more collaboration. She explained that issues of changing global economy, value chains and development as they affect access to ICT are not present at the highest level of political discourses in Nigeria. “We celebrate a few of these successes; we make noise but they are not just enough,” she said. The global competitiveness of young Nigerians could be addressed by access to basic ICT skills, she explained.
She added that governments in other climes create the right incentives to facilitate access to the internet and the right structures, especially in the rural areas. Government must also work with the private sector to ensure access to funds,among others.
The next session begins, tagged Internet ‘Shutdowns in 2019: Patterns, Trends & Campaigning in the African Region’. The session is being moderated by Berhan Taye of AccessNow. Joining her on the panel are Robert and Emmanuel, a campaigner from Togo.
Robert explained that there are different controls including taxation and other means of stifling access. Anonymity, he explained further, is manipulation and there is need for more legal angles and laws on how to regulate internet advertising. He also commended Dubawa and other fact-checking platforms for their efforts in curbing the spread of misinformation and fake news.
Emmanuel painted a picture of how a shutdown in Togo was restricted to the poor and citizens, while the rich and political elites enjoyed internet access. As a journalist reporting the shutdown, he explained how he and others had to cross over to Ghana through the border to gain access to the internet. “In francophone Africa, it is actually a trend,” he said of internet restriction and shutdowns.
Emmanuel also explained that in most countries on the continent, “justice is in jail.” He called on campaigners to collaborate and back up their actions with laws and get justice as appropriate.
Participants at the conference have been asked to contribute to the conversations and there are different suggestions on how countries can combat internet shutdown.
A participant explained that government do not like what they do not understand and the internet, being a weapon of expression for the common man, is not fully understood by the government. “If you want to avoid internet shutdown, let the government also use it,” said the participant, who spoke in French.
“Don’t take it for granted that internet access gives you power to win advocacy campaign; you also have to leverage on the traditional media,” another panelist said.
Robert said stakeholders have to build on each others’ strength. He also emphasised the need to ensure that policy makers understand the issues upon which they are legislating because they legislate from the position of fear if they have no understanding of the issues.