Recap: FIFAfrica 2017 Conference

By Nasubo Ongoma
  Published 16 Oct 2017
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September 27 - 29th had the FIFAfrica 2017 conference (Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa) in Johannesburg, South Africa. FIFAfrica is an annual conference organized by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) towards promoting a free and open Internet. This year’s conference was co-hosted by the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) and had over 250 participants from all over Africa, gathering to share insights and map out ways by which Internet Freedom can be enhanced in Africa.

With the increased usage of the Internet, there has also been an increase in Internet attacks. The conference provided a welcome space to discuss key issues on policy / legislative gaps and build awareness amongst stakeholders. There were several talks beneficial to members on ICT and Civic Participation, Media, Research, Right, Inclusion and Exclusion, among others. I will highlight my key takeaways, below.

The conference’s keynote was by Rebecca Enonchong from Cameroon on the Cost of Internet Shutdowns in Cameroon. The talk opened up perspectives on the social and psychological impact often un(der)stated. She mentioned how Cameroonians innovated with Internet Refugee Camps, where people would travel from the English speaking side to the French side to access the Internet. This led to Internet champions who ferried phones to access social media platforms and emails. The magnitude, impact and manifestation of the Cameroonian shutdown was documented here, here and here. As more and more countries experience Internet Shutdowns, it is imperative to keep having these conversations and add more stakeholders to push governments to KEEP IT ON!

One session on Big Data on exploring ethics, consent, data privacy and policy, had participants questioning the ethical responsibilities of online companies on the data we, the users, give. The other question was on how privacy issues are communicated to the users, in most cases, the onus is on the user to read, interpret and understand the terms of use and decide how much data to give. However, the terms of reference are often long, but users would prefer to have highlights of what they are signing on to. Another fascinating question was about trust, between the government and big businesses, who should we trust more with our data?

The conference brought together people from diverse fields, including and not limited to human rights defenders, journalists, government and private sector officials, developers and regulators. To ensure that the internet is kept open and free, I identified three key takeaways, 1) develop strong networks to champion internet freedom, 2) develop digital citizenship and security consciousness among young people in Africa and 3) work together to develop sound policies in our respective countries and regions. I look forward to working with more stakeholders to bring more people online and keep the Internet on!

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