On 27-29 September, I took part in the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2017 (FIFAfrica17), in Johannesburg, South Africa, representing the Fantsuam Foundation of Nigeria.
On the first day, I attended the human rights review mechanisms workshop, whose goal was to build the skills and knowledge needed for African civil society organisations and human rights defenders to use established international and regional human rights mechanisms to hold states and other actors accountable for upholding internet-related human rights.
On 28 September, the Forum was officially opened by the director of the South African national commission for UNESCO, who described the internet as an enabling space and resource for the realisation of all human rights, including the right to hold opinions without interference, the right to freedom of expression and information, the right to freedom of assembly and association, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to be free from discrimination of all forms, the right of ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language, and economic, social and cultural rights.
During the Forum, emphasis was placed on the fact that the internet is particularly relevant to social, economic and human development in Africa, and that in order to fully benefit from its development potential, the internet must be accessible, available and affordable for all persons in Africa. The internet was described as a vital tool for the realisation of the right of all people to participate freely in the governance of their country, and to enjoy equal access to public services.
Concerns were raised on the continuing inequality in access to and use of the internet, and the increasing use of the internet by state and non-state actors as a means of violating individual rights to privacy and freedom of expression through mass surveillance and related activities. This was the topic of discussion in the breakout sessions.
The need for all African stakeholders to invest in creating an enabling and empowering internet environment that truly serves the needs of Africans towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was also emphasised. It was noted that there was not enough synergy between the promoters of the SDGs and the digital community, as the SDG aims and objectives are not very visible online, which makes a large part of the population still oblivious to the goals.
The economic cost of poor access and internet shutdowns was analysed, and it is of grave concern that the economic losses are not being appreciated by most state actors. It was observed that state actors have resolved to shutting down the internet There was an outcry from the internet community to stand up against governments who shut down the internet as a means of control, especially during protests. Special cases were cited in Togo, Cameroon, Congo, etc.
The breakout sessions also attempted to proffer solutions to address the gender digital divide. Researchers from different organisations analysed the problem, and it was resolved that due to the conflicting data, a thorough understanding of the problem was necessary to design interventions to address the challenges.
Sessions to discuss security with state actors also provided insight for better understanding of security and privacy violation issues. Private sector stakeholders like Google and Facebook were represented at the Forum to answer questions on their roles in surveillance and censorship.
The Forum ended on a high note, with participants having a greater sense of responsibility for content on the internet and how to engage with state actors to ensure a free and open internet.
Seyi Eseyin-Johnson’s participation in FIFAfrica17 was made possible with the support of a travel grant from the APC Member Exchange and Travel Fund (METF).