By Iddi Yire/William Fiabu, GNA
Accra, Sept. 28, GNA – The Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2018 (FIFAfrica18) is underway in Accra. The three-day meeting is being organised by the Collaboration for International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), in partnership with the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).
The Forum is a landmark event that convenes various stakeholders from the internet governance and online rights arenas in Africa and beyond to deliberate on gaps, concerns and opportunities for advancing privacy, access to information, free expression, non-discrimination and the free flow of information online on the continent.
Since inception, FIFAfrica has also served as a platform to mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).
Engagements at the Forum, which is being attended by over 360 participants from across the African continent and beyond, aims to reflect current trends and concerns in access and usage of the internet and related technologies on the continent.
Mr Vincent Sowah Odotei, a Deputy Minister of Communications, who delivered the keynote address at the event, said the rapidly expanding use of the Internet and digital platforms in Africa had given true meaning to the rights of hundreds of millions of people across the continent to « seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.
He said the internet had brought cyberspace to the doorsteps of people, whether they were high and mighty or low and disadvantaged, enabling them to engage actively in public discourse on political issues, governance, social and economic development at local, national, regional and international levels.
Mr Sowah Odotei said the spread of information networks was forming a new nervous system for planet, Earth; stating that, « when something happens in another continent, the rest of us learn about it in real time and we can respond in real time as well ».
« Let us all bear in mind that the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become bearing in mind that access to information helps citizens hold their own governments accountable, » he added.
He said free flow of information generates new ideas, encourages creativity and entrepreneurship.
He said the Government had shown its commitment in developing a solid and dependable Information and Communications Technology (lCT) infrastructure by laying the Eastern Corridor Fibre Optic Backbone, which runs from Ho to Bawku, branching off at Yendi to Tamale.
The Deputy Minister noted that the infrastructure covers 27 districts and towns within the coverage area of the Fiber Optic Backbone.
He said the infrastructure was intended to extend the national backbone infrastructure to all districts in the country, provide national data facilities and connect al public institutions to a single shard communications and computing infrastructure in order to facilitate efficient delivery of government services to businesses.
He said the Government continues to attach great importance to ensuing that telecommunication and ICT facilities, which could now be described as a basic necessity of life, were available in all parts of the country in this regard.
Mr Sowah Odotei said the rural telephony project was launched in Abenaso, in the Eastern Region this year to connect the town and surrounding communities with ICT facilities and telecommunication services.
He said expanding telephony connectivity services to rural communities in the country would help open rural communities to opportunities for the development of skills and knowledge, as well as the growth of businesses and the local economy.
Mr Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director, MFWA, said the forum sought to deliberate and discuss the issues of internet freedom in Africa, look at what the challenges and what the prospects were and going forward what strategies they need to adopt to ensure that the internet ecosystem and the environment was such that it continues to empower people.
He said the internet must continue to give people the avenue to express themselves and also continue to allow people; particularly young people, to freely express themselves and to be innovative.
Mr Charles Onyango-Obbo, the Founder and Publisher, Africapedia Limited, said today’s generation must fight for internet freedom in Africa.
He said « The Big Men » (African dictators) now understand that the internet had allowed a new type of « digital/visual secession ».
Dr Wairagala Wakabi, Executive Director, CIPESA, lauded Ghana for its excellent democratic credentials; which was a model for the rest of Africa to emulate.
He said spreading the physical footprint of FIFAfrica across different regions of the continent would ensure that the Forum lives up to its goal of unpacking internet freedom challenges and opportunities in sub-regions of Africa and developing responses that are collaborative, and informed by insights from the experience of other sub-regions of the continent.