It was June 2010, the schools were about to go on a long break. The eyes of the world were on South Africa. The first African country to host the FIFA world cup. Huddled in the corner of the small and dusty school library, a little girl came across a book that spoke of computers and the internet. A place that held the promise of access to endless information at your fingertips. She dreamt of the day when she herself would, at the touch of a key, access this information. This little girl was me.
Eleven years later, this is still the reality of millions of young girls and marginalised communities in Africa. This has had a profound impact on, inter alia, access to education and access to health care. Measures such as social distancing, lockdowns and remote working that were introduced to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the already existing digital inequalities.
Before I attended the 2021 African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG), I had always believed that it was only the responsibility of the governments to work towards addressing, amongst other things, digital inequalities. Taking part in the practicum and getting the opportunity to play a completely different role from what I do for a living completely changed my perspective. To learn about multistakeholderism and hearing the speakers tell us their opposing views about the process was an eye-opening experience for me.
It planted the idea within me that “We can’t do it alone.” Given the history of Africa and its aspiration for the “digital future”, multistakeholderism might be one of the best ways to propel Africa towards this envisioned future.
The little girl from 11 years ago is very much alive within me. I see her in every child whose access to the internet could transform their lives. She is a reminder that we bear a great responsibility to make sure the future is different from the past. We owe it to the millions of young girls and marginalised communities, to sit at those round tables with stakeholders from different walks of life and remind them of the urgency of the need to develop policies and laws that facilitate access to the internet in Africa.
Tshepiso Hadebe holds an LLB degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is currently pursuing an LLM in Business Law with a focus on contract law, consumer law, intellectual property law and cyber law. She is passionate about the intersection of technology and law and enjoys crafting innovative and practical approaches to some of the toughest legal challenges of the information age. Her interests include data privacy, ethical AI, emergent technologies, tech policy research, digital inclusion and gender and tech. She is currently a candidate attorney at Phukubje Pierce Masithela Attorneys.