Koliwe Majama

Digital Rights and Policy Specialist

Guadalajara, Mexico. 6 – 9 December, 2016

View my Schedule for the event

Workshop An Internet of women by 2020

Activists and development workers shared successes and challenges they have faced over the past decade while trying to address the digital gender gap.  The conversation was hinged on the WSIS+10 review which set new targets for 2020. My reflections on the session and issues that I found interesting and worth carrying forward include:

  • Is there adequate and contextual research that can inform us on the barriers women face while trying to access Internet Communications Technologies?
  • To what extent are capacity building/ training initiatives for digital literacy relevant to the target groups
  • How can we build up on the already available expertise we have as women to facilitate mentoring initiatives in the sectors?
  • The reality is that the internet if not necessarily a safe space for women, and it is important to begin to have serious conversations on how the online environment can be ‘safer’ for especially women and girls.

The main issues and recommendations raised were as follows:

  • Increase in the number of women accessing the internet does not necessarily translate to a shift in the cultural barriers that limited women’s empowerment offline. What this means is that there should be parallel efforts  ensure that any interventions take into consideration the cultural barriers that exist offline at community level.
  • Research needs to go beyond collating sex disaggregated data to qualitative data that reflects the existing power dynamics that have in some instances widened the gender divide in this new digital era.
  • Women are not a homogeneous group, therefore mapping of interventions should take into consideration race, age, economic background, sexual orientation and social classes.
  • There is need for activists to engage government on the importance of gender mainstreaming in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives and policy if any meaningful impact is to be realised at country level.

Workshop Local Content and sustainable growth

The workshop was coordinated by the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the International Federation of Film Producers Associations. Its main objective was to understand the complexities of Internet video services  and in general their benefits to sustainable growth and local content production. Speakers included film and TV producers and independent content producers from Africa, Asia, and, Latin America. Participants discussed legislative, regulatory and economic realities and possibilities that could make local content industries significantly sustainable and contribute meaningfully to national and regional Gross Domestic Products, innovation and cultural diversity.

The main issues and recommendations raised were as follows:

  • Local content producers in developing countries should approach Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for opportunities and partnerships in the  promotion of local content over their networks.
  •  Content producers must explore new distribution channels that can be monetised to shift the consumption of free content online.
  • Most African independent productions do not make it to the cinemas at global level. For that reason, the increase in internet penetration and diversity of audio visual productions becomes an alternative for the promotion of local African talent, although there could be an improvement in the marketing and returns for the producers.
  • Platforms like YouTube have over the years offered served as a good platform for the promotion of independent content producers, however what remains a challenge is having institutions such as Google to pay for content.
  • African content producers remain at a disadvantage as they have challenges with online payment systems
  • Issues of censorship remain a critical issue especially in countries where there are political insecurities around free expression, good governance and environmental contestations.

Workshop – Encryption and safety of journalists in digital age

This workshop, which was organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), explored privacy and safety of journalists globally. It noted the developments and debates on surveillance and encryption among media stakeholders in the United Nations member states. Presenters emphasised the role that anonymity and encryption play in enabling the protection of privacy and freedom of expression of journalists and the protection of their sources and whistleblowers.

The main issues and recommendations raised were as follows:

  • Emphasis on the need for media rights activists to build on the recommendation in the 2016 Report by the Special Rapporteur, David Kaye on Freedom of expression that focuses on anonymity and encryption in the  guaranteeing of freedom of speech for journalism practice.
  • Journalists should employ different levels of encryption of their communication – during the research for their stories, and also when sharing their opinions and information.
  • Internet governance conversations must reiterate the need for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to respect their role as privacy intermediaries and the media should begin to hold them accountable in respect of the obligation of the  privacy of their clients.
  • The need to strike a balance between the limits to encryption in relation to vulnerable communities and national security. Internet Governance platforms should engage on the yardsticks and measures to be put in place to ensure the balance.
  • Human rights activists and journalists must employ a sensible and practical balance between new online and traditional off line security measures.

Dynamic Coalition – Internet Rights and Principles

The roundtable discussion was organised by the Amnesty International and  attended by Human Rights experts, activists and Internet Services Provider(ISP) representatives. Presentations covered cyber harassment, censorship online with particular focus on social media.

The main issues and recommendations raised were as follows:

  • The online space is slowly being used to restrict democracy through the marketing and commercialisation of misinformation, defamation and  hate speech, online violence targeting mostly women , journalists, bloggers and activists.
  • There is need to increase lobbying for the protection of the aforementioned groups against censorship, hacking and Denial of Service (DOS) attacks of  their online platforms or accounts.
  • Civil Society has an important role to play in the monitoring of online violations, demands on transparency and accountability of the relevant actors on surveillance requests and ensuring quick responses attacks through follow ups.

Workshop – Analysing the Causes and Impacts of Internet Shutdowns.

The workshop explored the causes and ground-level impacts of internet shutdowns with a view to uncover the motivations behind the measures, laws and policies that aide them.

  • Internet shutdowns have not only had adverse affects on human rights but also on the economy of the country’s that they have been imposed.
  • It is easier for countries with a single exchange points to shutdown the internet than for those with multiple points in which the internet can be accessed.
  • The justification of internet shutdowns is problematic as it seeks to normalise them. Internet shutdowns are form of censorship and censorship never be justified.
  • Civil society organisations should monitor and document evidence on internet shutdowns in spite of their variation of either surgical or blanket shutdowns. That way it is easier for trends to be studied.
  • African activists must draw up a regional African strategy on Internet shutdowns.

First published by the Association for Progressive Communication

The expansion of access to the Internet in Africa is a game of political power and control.

I reached this conclusion as we mapped and analysed the main internet governance issues this past week during the African School of Internet Governance (AfriSIG). It is apparent that Africa’s contribution to the world’s target of connecting yet another billion, largely lies on the shoulders of two main stakeholders – the government and the private sector. Unfortunately, the interests of the two in ensuring access to an open and affordable Internet , in the majority of cases, are not always common. In fact this constant tangent in interests between the two will most likely account for yet another missed opportunity empower millions and transform a continent that has continued to lag behind in terms of development.

In his illustration of access to the internet, David Souter noted the ‘public good’, infrastructure and affordability as the three key issues influencing access. My reflection on the three issues, based on trends in the development of the internet on the continent, allowed me to interact with the power dynamics between the two and how they will continue to breed barriers to connectivity in spite of the continents mobile revolution.

Firstly, the politics of the internet as a public good.

By definition, a public good is a good that is non-excludable, non-rivalrous and which no one makes a profit from. Public goods are predominantly government or state funded through taxes. At present, the internet in Africa remains unevenly distributed and accessed; with a digital divide existing between the urban and rural communities, the urban poor and urban rich and marginalised sections of African societies that include women, the disabled and the youth.

To a larger extent, internet connection on the continent is rooted in and driven by ISP business models that are driven by a primary motive of profit. Take for instance, Zimbabwe where ISPs, have invested in infrastructure and continue to roll out services that do not appeal to nor prioritise rural communities. ISPs becry low consumption sophistication and low income stating that governments should use the Universal Services Fund (USF) to subsidise infrastructural costs and promote use.

But do African governments have the ‘political’ will to ensure, not only equitable access to the internet, but to ensure that it is a secure and open platform that facilitates the exercise of basic human rights and good governance? Given the background where some governments have maintained controls on information, free expression and opinion and continue to repress and violate the traditional media offline, this may be a challenge as the internet offers wider realisation for all three.

To substantiate this assertion, I allude to the current wave of internet shutdowns that the continent continues to experience. Ironically, the shutdowns are occurring in the midst of a clamor for wider access on the continent, but again, this does not come as a surprise. Equally, to speak of transparent, non-discriminatory and competitively neutral utilisation of USF or targeted subsidies to increase universal may be a long shot. Over the years political interference from different government quarters of governments in the use of the USFs as well as disputes over poor or ineffective administration of the fund has been cited in a number of researches. Clearly, it is not enough for a country to just have a USF in place, but there is need for a legal or regulatory framework to drive the utilisation of the fund. Clearly USF policy should complement a market oriented telecommunications sector and incentivise the private sector to see the extension to universal access in Africa as a priority. No prize for guessing who should be in the fore of this conversation.

The second issue – infrastructure.

Lets face it, the prioritisation of broadband for development in the internet governance debates has put African governments are under a lot of pressure. They have responded by the adopting infrastructure sharing in their national ICT policies. At continental level, was the adoption of mutualisation policies following the development of undersea cables that integrated the continent into the international fiber optics connectivity networks. The connection of national backbone to the international networks has in most cases been facilitated through common or jointly constructed infrastructure.

This automatically this means a monopoly of internet infrastructure. Monopoly means network quality, new technologies and controls on access will be determined by and reliant on harmonised infrastructure. So crtitical questions are; How will this impact on market competition of existing ISPs, quality of services and whether it will translate into tangible consumers benefits and promote innovation not only within a national context but continentally?

This question is the reason why I was pleasantly surprised by the under representation of the private sector at the just ended African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF), held in Durban South Africa. Who is having the conversation on access? What we need at this point is a regional conversation on the possibilities of collaboration of internet service providers, and in particular the mobile network operators, for collective increase in coverage and access to the internet on the continent.

Lastly is the issue of affordability.

As Research ICT Africa’s Chenai Chair presented an analysis of pricing of monthly mobile broadband data across 28 African countries in one of the AfriSIG sessions, it became even clearer that a regional standard must be set on the pricing of data. Statistics show an unbelievable disparity in the pricing of data with the least cost recorded in Tanzania, ninety cents per gig and more expensive costs in countries like Zimbabwe and Swaziland where a gig would cost slightly over thirty dollars monthly. The most expensive country, South Sudan, charges ninety dollars per gigabyte for a month. So when you look at the costs of mobile data on the continent, it is apparent that they are way above what the average African can afford. So now you see why we are conflicted on the issue of zero-rated services on the continent? Facebook has signed up almost half of Africa on its free internet service, is testing solar-powered drones and developing a satellite to beam internet access to Africa’s most remote communities. Soon Facebook will define the internet in Africa and this will undoubtedly continue to account for losses by MNO’s for paid voice and text services. Why does this not move African governments? What will be the cost of free Internet services in the long run? The private sector may need to push a little harder for frank discussions on policy or regulation on such services and consensus on how we can ensure affordability on the continent, while promoting our own brands and markets.

The 5th African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF) was held from 16 – 18 October 2016 in Durban, South Africa. The AfIGF brought together government representatives, the private sector, academia, technical community, civil society organisations and the media from over 30 African countries.

 The African School on Internet Governance

Pic: The Association of Progressive Communication

The AfIGF was preceded by the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) held 11-15 October 2016.  I was privileged to be a part of the class of 2016, whose dates were strategically planned to precede the AfIGF in order to enhance the learning experience of the 44 graduates who attended the school. As part of its practicum, the class of 2016, which I was privileged to be a part of came up with a statement with recommendations on intentional internet shutdowns which was presented at the AgIGF.

Internet shutdowns are the latest global phenomenon used by governments to ‘control’ citizen action. Globally over 50 internet shutdowns have been recorded for the year 2016. Africa has witnessed varied Internet shutdowns that range from total blackouts of access or targeted interruptions of popular social media platforms. The latest internet shutdowns on the continent include that of The Gambia imposed during the country elections, are Democratic Republic of Congo’s shutdown of social media applications, as the President Kabila’s term of office draws to a close. The reasons proffered for the shutdowns, are usually concerns of public disorder and national security during national elections. They are also used to censor citizens and control mobilisation during citizen-led protests. In some instances the shutdowns are government sanctioned, while in others as is the case with Zimbabwe, the shutdown is unaccounted for.

 Parallel session on Internet Rights

The session, which was organised by the Association of Progressive Communications, was an open discussion that focused on the African Declaration of Internet Rights and Freedoms and outlined digital rights trends on the continent

The following recommendations were submitted:

  • Within the framework of Internet governance, the promotion of rights and freedom online is the responsibility of governments, and other critical stakeholders that include the media, civil society and the private sector.
  • African Governments should consider the cost of not mobilising the potential of the internet as an enabler of free expression and the free flow of information. Rather than view the internet as ‘new media’ that channels dissent, they should realise its potential as a platform for interacting with citizens, deliver services, enhance open governance and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Principles is a guide to respecting human rights on the internet for policy makers, the media, businesses, the technical community, civil society and human rights defenders.

Connecting the next billion which role for Africa?

This panel discussion centered on how Africa can contribute meaningfully to the next one billion people to be connected to the internet. Panelists noted that the following issues were important in making a meaningful regional contribution:

  • The need to promote local content through the development of a model policy framework and a strategy that not only promotes the development of local content but also its consumption.
  • The emphasis on the need for open government data initiatives that promote the accessibility of public information and services online. This would include e-government, e-payment systems, e-commerce and e-learning platforms.
  • Increase the accessibility of available broadband through the adoption of Private Public Partnerships for the sector.
  • Emphasis on the strengthening of collaboration between the ICT industry and education sector for an increase in skills for the development of a digital economy and skills for the creation of digital knowledge networks. This will ensure that relevant skills are developed and promotes for the industry.
  • Promotion of affordable internet on the continent through policies that provide for either or all of the following; subsidised broadband costs for academic institutions, reduction of operational costs and multiple tax constraints on internet service providers, levying taxes on internet enabled devices.
  • Promotion of Community Networks, which would allow geographically marginalised communities to get connected via a network of WiFi access points. Similarly, the utilisation of TV white spaces for internet deployment to underserved areas and at affordable rates. TV white spaces are unused broadcasting frequencies in the wireless spectrum
  • At country level, stakeholders organise themselves in order investigate and make clear recommendations on challenges relating to the affordability and accessibility of the internet within their context. This will enable them to select what realistically can be adopted from regional recommendations.

National Internet Governance Forums

Currently the continent has thirteen National Internet Governance Forums (NIGFs)

  • What is also clear is that very few African countries have managed to achieve a multi stakeholder approach in their respective IG processes. In Southern Africa, member states agreed to set up national internet governance forums (IGFs) to facilitate informed dialogue on policy and other related matters between stakeholders on internet development and governance by 30 June 2015. To date only five out of fifteen member states have set up and established NIGFs.
  • During the year, African states drew up a draft African Union Declaration on Internet Governance which was presented at the AfIGF-2015 for input by stakeholders. After that the final draft of the document was presented to the Ministers of ICT during the Extra-ordinary meeting of the Specialised Technical Committee on Internet Governance and Cyber-security held in Bamako, Mali in September. The ministers endorsed the documents and now it awaits forwarding to the African Union organs for consideration and adoption.

For a fuller, detailed report visit AfIGF website.




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