Human developments have continued to astound us overtime but none so far has beat the internet except for the newest leap in artificial intelligence and robotics. However they would not be in existence today if humans never discovered the internet. The internet is the only thing that never goes off- day in and day out, it has slowly become a continuum that can never die, and for huge data consumers- the only barrier is a diminished data balance that may force you off for a while. But not forever.
For all the stakeholders involved, nothing will suit us better than free and safer internet for all. An internet that is beyond hate speech, cyber monitoring, cyber stalking, cyber-bullying and cybercrime. Accessing the internet may truly be the breakthrough Africa needs beyond the dependence on underground minerals like gold, columbite and crude. It was just like a dream when that 8 year old hacked his way into pentagon and the narratives changed. With the latest innovation of Google Digital Skills to empower more people and more businesses- the internet can finally become an instrument of overall good and minimal bad. This was the essence of the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum that held at Radisson Blu Hotel, Ikeja through April 23rd till April 25th 2019.
One fact is true in this discourse. We all have rights which must not be trampled upon, hence the essence for inclusion that will further translate to a pleasurable outcome of development, trickling little by little in a top- bottom and bottom-top approach for a better life for us all. To get there, we must first prioritize our competencies to believe we can. We have to be hardworking and deliberate about improving the conditions of our Government to be concerned with the workings of the internet.
A worthy question we make ask is if the Government is actually concerned with including ICT in our hurried 2019 budget. We must also ask if they are willing to diversify the economy by testing waters in the silicon valley of ICT and robotics, than the over flogged oil that may soon be a thing of the past in global markets. This is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when renewable energy overflows the reign of fossil fuels and combustible engineering systems that affect our ecosystem.
Head of the Senegal Country Office, Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA), Hawa Ba highlighted the role of the international community in liberating Ethiopia from zero internet penetration to the 15.4% threshold of today. Reacting to that incident, she said: “Government cannot stop conversations in cyberspace.” She also added that the funding for internet inclusion is 50% from Youth Initiatives. This is because the awareness for digital inclusion stems from the citizens in the country and the affected in the case of Ethiopia, are the youth who are still citizens of their country.
Internet is a means of communication for citizens to express themselves. Citizens are the available pressure groups that should stand up for internet spaces and if they feel that there is a shutdown, they should by all means protect it. With the advent of content from citizens, influencers, digital strategists, the media and the government, the internet has grown to accommodate all of us and serve as our media for expression and inclusion. Social Media is now used for protest and any move to shut down the internet is a way to silence the voice of the masses. A smartphone has become handy in these present times: even the average man on the streets can boast of one.
In winning any war against digital inclusion and internet shutdown, there must be collaboration across board and the consolidation of these efforts. Beyond the newest form of innovation in AI, government must be consistent and set key deliverables in what they hope to gain as far as ICT is concerned, so it wouldn’t fall to the wrong usage. Government stands to serve an obligation- which is access to information that includes the internet, not just in print or broadcast alone. One must be able to find open data on the internet and track down the Government records, for accountability, transparency and advocacy.
“The issue is that too many people are excluded,” Segun Mausi, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch Africa Division quipped. “We can run a hash tag to promote digital inclusion but until action meets words, all we are doing is talk.” Mausi, a firm believer in human rights which has thrust her down this path, urged for more resources and right attitudes. In terms of capacity for instance, these conversations need to be taken to the hinterland.
The major issue that will continue to bother us is the position of the Government in all of these. As much as public-private partnerships are concerned, the Government is meant to start by placing these things in the budget and monitoring them for actionable progress and key deliverables. It is one thing to have a free internet; it is another to have it work for you. Conversely, there are other sides to the internet which include cyber fraud (yahoo yahoo), and hate speech which may descend into arrest. However, we need to define what hate speech means. Does it mean a story in your disinterest or is it an attack on a certain race, tribe, causing insidious harm to a lot of people?
On the flipside, how can the internet work if there is not tech or power to last 12 hours, not to talk of a day?
Therefore, we need a re-orientation. The internet is intertwined with education. You can make a phone call without reading or writing but you can’t access the internet if it is not in a language you understand. This means we can make ICT work for us in our indigenous language or in English. So therefore, for these forces to work, we need to be able to educate our old and young not only on language but on how to handle a computer and the internet. Maybe that is where we must start our digital sermons from.