IFF2018: Experts assess state of internet freedom in Africa

For three days, digital rights experts and stakeholders assessed the state of internet freedom in Africa. This was the recently concluded 6th Internet Freedom Forum organised by Paradigm Initiative at NAF Conference Centre, Abuja, between April 24 and 26, 2018.

The experts, who came from countries across Africa and the world, gathered in Abuja to help shape the future of policy on the Internet in Africa.

According to Tope Ogundipe, the Director of Programs at Paradigm Initiative, “The Internet is rapidly changing every aspect of life in Africa – including education, work, business, entertainment, governance and health, amongst others. Its growing importance has made it a contention ground for interests in government, the private sector and civil society. The Forum, therefore, serves as a platform to actively and proactively engage with policies that affect freedom and rights online.”

Speaking at the event, Titi Akinsanmi, Head Public Policy and Government Relations at Google stated, “The Internet has become an indispensable tool for development in all sectors of life. All hands must be on deck to enable more access to the Internet, and to eliminate abuses such as privacy violations”.

Also speaking at the event, Akua Gyekye, Public Policy Manager West Africa for Facebook, remarked, “As Nigeria approaches the 2019 elections, the Internet is a useful vehicle for civic education for citizens on the best practices for political participation. Facebook will work with stakeholders in Nigeria to ensure that our platform is not abused to impact negatively on the elections.”

Nnenna Wakama, senior manager, Africa, for the World Wide Web foundation, highlighted the challenge of the rising cost of Internet data across the continent saying, “The conversation on Internet freedom must begin at looking at the prohibitive cost of data bundles which prevents millions of people from accessing the Internet in Africa”.

On the side session on Nigeria’s Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), Mr Damen Ilevbaoje, Program Manager at Budgit Nigeria, stated, transparent and effective use of the Universal Service Provision Fund is a priority if Internet access is to reach underserved areas in Nigeria’s rural areas”

Speaking at the international event, the executive director, Paradigm Initiative, ‘Gbenga Sesan, noted, “The Internet is without doubt one of the most important technological innovations of the 20th century, and has radically transformed every aspect of our modern society. IFF 2018 is continuation of the conversation we must continue to have with all stakeholders as we seek to build a healthy and free Internet space for Africa, and the world”.

Sesan said further that, “in continuation of this important conversation and to cater for an expanded audience, from 2019 the Internet Freedom Forum will now be known as the “Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum.”

Paradigm Initiative also announced the creation of a Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellowship, which is designed to give “media professionals, who are important stakeholders in this conversation, an opportunity to interact with professionals working on digital rights and inclusion across the continent”.

The Internet Freedom Forum welcomed over two hundred delegates from some thirty countries in Africa and beyond and received support from organisations including Microsoft, Ford Foundation, The Guardian, Mozilla, Google, Facebook, Premium Times and Civicus.

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