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Internet Shutdowns: Africans must get on keyboards and fight - ITREALMS

ITREALMS:

... Counsel of Aneke the bird!

FifAfrica lands in Accra:

The fifth edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) in Accra, Ghana, which held at La Palm Beach Resort, was a sort of reviving the African spirit to engage, mostly positively so as to make a digital sense, especially with regards to access to information and online mediums. It was organized by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in partnership with the Media Foundation West Africa (MFWA), from Wednesday, September 26 through Friday, September 28, 2018.

Although I missed that of Wednesday, which agenda centered on the Ford Foundation partners’ meeting, UPRoar: Advocating for Internet Freedom with the Universal Period Review as well as Digital Tools Localisation Sprint, due to my flight schedule largely, it was interesting to catch up for the remaining two days.

I succeeded holding a brief meeting with members of my panel that were already on ground and we shared modus operandi for the session on “Trends in Online Regulation in Africa.” It aided us to agree on workabilities and think ahead for plan ‘B’ in case of last minute changes.

The Ghanaian handmade:

So, in the morning of Thursday, September 27 was the official opening and welcoming session after registration was done, with the name tags having this Ghanaian handmade necklace, of course, with her national colours. The chief executive, Media Foundation for West Africa, Mr. Sulemana Braimah took the podium to welcome participants to the city of Black stars and enjoined we relax and enjoy the hospitality of Ghana people.

For the Executive Director of CIPESA, Dr. Wairagala Wakabi, #FIFAfrica has served as a platform to mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) in Africa, stressing the fact that the continent is having an increase in Internet shutdowns, which have drastically affected the state of Internet freedom, advised Africans especially digital rights defenders to adopt the approach of Aneke the bird as depicted in Nigeria’s Nollywood; summed up in African proverb where the bird declared that since the hunters or shooters have decided to shoot without missing, Aneke the bird will also fly without perching; to avoid being caught by the government in their exercises who may be looking for reasons to shut down the Internet on the continent.

Hate for free Internet?

Kofi Annan, (April 8, 1938 – August 18, 2018): Nairobi, February 2008.
The publisher of Africapedia, Mr. Charles Onyango-Obbo in his Africanese-laden keynote address, entitled “Many African Governments Hate the Free Internet – And That Is a Very Good Thing” noted that for the fact African leaders hate free Internet, gave digital rights advocates a role to play towards saving the situation.

His take off point was a hearty tribute on behalf of Africans and indeed all participants in #FiFAfrica 2018 on the recent death of true African, Mr. Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who passed on Saturday, August 18, 2018, in a hospital in Bern, Switzerland.

He recalled that about February 2008 that late Kofi Annan (April 8, 1938 – August 18, 2018) was in Nairobi, leading a peace talk after the Kenya’s general election which resulted in violence and after a session, he took a walk over a 100 meters to show the return of peace on the streets of Nairobi, which was remarkable which he tagged as “the most important walk in a park in Africa.”

He said on one hand, that “Most African Big Men Hate the Free Internet - And that’s a ‘Wonderful’ thing” and listed what he called “Enemies of the Internet” to include leaders and governments of Ethiopia, Cameroon, Egypt, Eritrea, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Congo (Rep.) and Gabon. Stressing that idea of “enemy of the internet” relies on a grand myth: That African dictators and their henchmen/women “don’t get” the internet/digital universe.

“They do, possibly better than the democrats and good guys appreciate its power, which is why they suppress it,” he said, pointing out that the Internet has driven several significant “state shifting” forces the Big Men understand.

According to him, there are just a few examples, in that it was “instrumentalised” by the new and dominant 21st African bureaucracy, the “digitocracy” which is built around telcos, platform technologies like Mpesa, E-Citizen, and the “surveillance securitocracy”.

Internal contest:

These, Onyango-Obbo said, they weaponised for political messaging, attacking regime foes, and election influencing. He alleged an internal contest between the old and new, with the new favouring open internet even for cynical political reasons and urged new generation or netizens to take heed and do well to fight the ‘battle’ of keeping the Internet open, because the old had fought for the African independence.

He reiterated the fact that fake news may have saved Kenya from an Internet shutdown after the 2017 elections, which included but not limited to the likelihood that government was benefitting from much of the false content that “fake news was motivating more people to go to the polls.”

The Big Men, Onyango-Obbo also said, understood the internet allowed a new type of “digital/virtual secession” which paved the way for growing exit by citizens from the spaces controlled by states, citing for instance, the Nigeria’s Lola Omolola’s invitation-only Facebook group “Female in Nigeria” (FIN); founded in 2015 as “a movement of women focused on building compassion and providing support for one another, with the goal of having up to 1,000 members” but today, has over 1 million members!

He also elaborated with “Kilimani Mums in Nairobi, Confessions of a Married Woman in Egypt and Iranian ‘Signal Madam,’” emphasizing that Internet has finally been seized from the state narrative-making power (via satire and memes).

“It doesn’t forget, so keeps memory alive. Without amnesia, political control is difficult,” Onyango-Obbo declared, insisting that this virtual secession has significantly constituted emotional emigration, which he explained to mean that already some African leaders rule mostly over the bodies of their subjects, not their souls.

“The real surprise is not that there’s internet censorship, but if there had been none,” he said, and called for more innovation around subverting digital censorship. Charging the new generation of netizens that past generations, had the fight for independence, for the liberation of Africa, and for the ‘second liberation’ … this one is yours. Get on your keyboards and fight.”

#FiFAfrica18’s overview:

This saw the highlights of some of the key themes to be expected with Hu Xianhong of UNESCO, Grace Bomu of KICTANET and Peter Asare Nuamah of Pan African University sharing their insights. For Xianhong, UNESCO will have a session on Friday afternoon on the “International Day for Universal Access to Information” (IDUAI) study on some seven African countries including Nigeria.

For Grace Bomu, it was time to extend invitation to the session on ‘Consumer Rights Protection in the Digital Age, considering the fact that digital technologies create new opportunities for consumers, but yet make the upholding of their rights more challenging. She urged participants to come to the session to know how to navigate some of these challenges.

The last but not the least on the highlight session was Peter Asare Nuamah, a PhD candidate at the Pan African University, who underscored the importance of Africans taking cognizance of trends in online regulations on the continent. He noted that since 2017 Cameroon shut down the internet to digital communications and ever since has remained one of the longest interruptions in a bid to control online community, especially in the Anglophone regions of the country.

Then came a session on open data and importance of recognizing open data for better economic planning and improved life.

Trends in online regulation:

Penultimate afternoon witnessed the session on Trends in Online Regulation in Africa at Room 2, which saw the Lead Strategist at DigitalSENSE Africa Media group, Mr. Remmy Nweke leading discussions at FIFAfrica2018. Other speakers include Sakah Bernard Nsaidzedze of Pan African University in Cameroun; Legal practitioner and media trainer, Mr. Zakaria Tanko Musah of Ghana Institute of Journalism, an independent analyst, Nanjala Nyabola, and Sellina Sheena Nkowani from the Nation Publications, Malawi.

The session examined the series of laws in Africa which have in recent time proposed or passed laws and regulations that undermine public confidence in the use of online platforms and could lead to increased self-censorship by media, civil society groups and individual citizens, as well as to their withdrawal from online discourse.

Top on the outcome of the session was the charge on media entities and digital rights defenders group to establish both regulatory desk in media houses and regulatory officers to work with the lawmakers at the national levels, across African countries to aid proactive interventions against turns of Internet shutdowns.

Resetting Online Narrative on Africa:

After that comes the “Re-setting Online Narrative on Africa” anchored by Dembah Kandeh from the University of the Gambia and featured Sandister Tei of Wikimedia, Charles Onyango-Obbo of Africapedia as well as Dragana Kourin of Localisation Lab, where they examined who is creating online contents and for whom, taking into perceptive, the truism of these content as for Africa and Africans.

They ended by calling on all Africans to join the train of creating contents especially in our local languages to save such languages from extinction and at the same time promoting the language which cannot be distanced from the culture. In addition, a proposition from yours sincerely is that the African Development Bank (AfDB) should see the issue of localization of African languages as huge way of resetting the online narrative for the continent, by investing on it to make it more attractive.

*Zankaria, Sellina, Remmy, Nanjala and Benard after the session on Trends ...

*Remmy Nweke/ED, Ops

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