Panellists, participants at the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum 2019 Wednesday decried at the growing marginalisation of Africans in information accessibility in the digital space.
The forum organised by the Paradigm Initiative hosted social workers, activists, educationists, information technologists and journalists from about 48 African countries in Lagos, Nigeria.
During the panel discussion moderated by Paradigm Initiative executive director Gbenga Sesan, the panellists and participants cited different examples of digital rights marginalisation in Africa.
Some African countries in recent years have suffered internet shutdown from their governments to “contain and manage” information circulated through the internet.
Currently, Chad has been without internet for the past 13 months. Cameroon, Ethiopia and Tanzania have also been on the receiving end of government clampdown on citizens’ digital rights.
The panellists advocated the inclusion of digital rights in all African countries to better address governance, socio-economic, rape and violence, human rights, education and other issues that directly affects Africans.
Segun Mausi, the executive director, Human Rights Watch Africa division said “it is also the responsibility of every government to provide its citizens access and freedom to information that concerns their lives.”
While Mausi opined that digital right was beginning to gain attention from different country governments in Africa, she cited the instance of Ethiopia whose former president Mulatu Teshome was pressured to vacate office through advocacies on social media and other digital platforms.
She, however said “too many people are excluded (from digital rights) and we are letting the governments get away with it, we need to create the issue and speak about the issue.”
Ernest Ndukwe, former chief executive officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) argued that digital rights might not be accessible to Africans due to the level of literacy.
“Education and digital rights inclusion are inter-related,” Ndukwe said.
“If you give a digital right to an individual who cannot read and write, how does he or she benefit from it? So, for digital right inclusion to be felt, education has to come first.”
Hawa Ba, head of the Senegal Country Office, Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA), said the internet has the potential of helping Africans grow for the benefit of Africa if not restricted for political reasons.
She said although “there are challenges of hate speeches, bullying and our contents, but we are winning. We don’t need to stop because these governments are ahead of us.
“We need to challenge for our inclusion in digital rights not just horizontally but also vertically. Governments cannot continue restricting us from sharing our challenges because of political reasons.”