Internet Freedom Forum (IFF) is an arena where topical issues around Internet rights, especially in Africa are discussed. Issues around surveillance, data privacy, freedom of expression online, Internet and democratic governance, constitutionalism and digital rights are among many other topics which participants, drawn from multiple stakeholder groups including government, civil society, media, academia and the private sector discuss at IFF.
The Internet Freedom Forum has a track record of producing tangible, actionable outcomes. For example, the 2014 edition of the Forum produced a dynamic legislation, the Digital Rights and Freedom bill, which seeks to protect the Digital Rights of Nigerians, and is currently being consulted for replicability from other jurisdictions around the world. Interestingly, the bill has now gone past the second reading and public hearing at the House of Representatives.
Also, conversations around the Forum in the 2016 edition spurred the need for research and reports such as the ‘Status of Internet Freedom Report in Nigeria’ and more recently, the ‘Digital Rights Africa 2016 Report’ launched at 11th edition of the Internet Governance Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico on December 8, 2016. Both reports addressed the need to accelerate the conversations on Internet Freedom, and serve as a basis for a comparison of digital rights across Africa.
We are grateful for the support received from our partners towards the successful execution of the 2017 Internet Freedom Forum. IFF 2017 partners include Ford Foundation, Google, Facebook, AccessNow, Heinrich Böll Stiftung Nigeria, Mozilla Foundation, Web Foundation and Internews. Official media partners include TechCabal, RedMedia, Digital Sense Africa, NewsWire and TechWithCFA.
Objectives of IFF 2017
- To highlight the current state and nature of Internet freedom across African nations, as well as strategies and goals for improving it.
- Sharing best practices for protecting and promoting Internet freedom in the region.
- Identifying key indicators for measuring the growth of Internet Freedom and the success of advocacy efforts.
- Discussing strategies for engaging key stakeholders, including the private sector, government, civil society and media in collaborative efforts to combat the violation of digital rights in Africa.
- Obtain recommendations (specific goals and targets) and related key actions which would have relevance and impact on both local and regional levels, required to strengthen internet freedom advocacy in Africa.
- Forging of formidable partnerships for strengthening Internet Freedom Advocacy in the region.
IFF 2017 Evaluation Summary
Based on the feedback forms completed by about half of the participants:
- 91% stated that they strongly agree (71%) or agree (20%) that the event met their expectations;
- 98% said they strongly agree (66%) or agree (32%) that IFF 2017 opened them to new issues as it relates to Internet Freedom globally;
- 92% strongly agree (82%) or agree (10%) that the content was well organised and easy to follow;
- 83% stated that they strongly agree (73%) or agree (10%) that panelists and speakers were knowledgeable on the subject matter; and
- 100% rated the overall IFF 2017 experience as excellent (58%) or good (42%).
We are working hard to improve the experience for the 2018 Forum while working on timing, audience interaction, adequate time for country reports, additional parallel session slots, getting even more participants that need to be in the room to Nigeria for the 2018 edition, and more.
DAY 0: Tuesday, April 25, 2017
A4AI Coalition Meeting
On Day 0 of IFF 2017, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) coalition in Nigeria held their second meeting in 2017 at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Ikeja, Lagos.
Highlights of the event include presentations on ‘Net Neutrality and Open Internet in Nigeria,’ ‘The Role of Public Access in Affordability: Asia Perspective,’ and the ‘2017 Affordability Report: Nigeria Highlights.’ A keynote address was presented by the Honourable Minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu.
The Africa Regional Coordinator of the A4AI, Onica Makwakwa, who coordinated the meeting and also made the presentation on the 2017 affordability report; emphasized that Nigeria needs to make internet access more affordable in order to bridge the gender gap in internet access and push towards achieving the target of 1GB of mobile data priced at 2% or less of average monthly income, as recommended by the A4AI. In her opinion, there must be a good reason that the SDGs includes Internet Affordability and she enjoined stakeholders to support open ownership in order to get rid of anonymous, opaque companies which enables corruption, fraud, organized crime and tax evasion. She also recommended a reduction in taxes on end user devices as well as an update of Nigeria’s national ICT and broadband plans.
Net Neutrality was discussed as a key basis for equitable internet access and driving innovation. The role of regulators in protecting the industry and ensuring that all Nigerians have access to the internet was also highlighted. The Communications Minister in his speech urged civil society organizations and telcos not to relent in search for innovative ideas for improved broadband penetration in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s performance was above average according to A4AI 2017 Affordability report, being the nation with the third most affordable Internet in Africa. Nigeria can however learn from other African countries that performed better on the Affordability Report and even those from other continents. The Honourable Minister Adebayo Shittu, formally launched the affordability report.
DAY 1: Wednesday, April 26, 2017
The Opening remark was delivered by ‘Gbenga Sesan, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative. He welcomed participants and encouraged networking in order to see new collaborations and birthing of new ideas by IFF2018. He reminded everyone of the recent restoration of Internet access in Anglophone regions of Cameroon where the Internet had been shut down for 93 days, pointing out soberly that it could still happen in any of the other African country.
Keynote Address and Discussions
Anriette Esterhuysen, Director of Advocacy, Association for Progressive Communications, gave the Keynote Address on “A Special Kind of Freedom”. In it she said that the Internet is inter-generational, linking both the political and the personal, and one does need not to be special in order to use it. She stressed that there is no media other than Internet that allows one to cross boundaries and enjoined participants to use their freedom on the Internet to speak in such a way as to bring about change. Following the keynote, Anriette Esterhuysen sat down for a chat with ‘Gbenga Sesan, and then took questions from participants. ‘Gbenga Sesan & Anriette explored the connection between freedom of speech, and rights online and offline. As part of recommendations from this session, the speaker advised participants to respond to challenges by becoming aware, going beyond awareness to acting, and by networking in order to form strong civil society groups. Other highlights from the morning’s conversation included:
- We cannot take Internet Freedom for granted, it is not secure. (Cameroon’s recent internet shutdown of nearly 100 days as an example)
- Classic research methodologies do not capture the true impact of Internet shutdowns in Africa’s informal sector and this is important. Research and development must always work hand in hand.
- We need African governments to broaden participation in legislative public hearings by using digital technologies to connect with people who cannot be physically present.
- All stakeholders, delegates and participants must rally against shutdowns in Africa and fight to #KeepItOn
- Areas of focus in advocacy for online rights: Rule of Law, Human Rights, Gender Equality and Good Governance.
Country updates where then taken from representatives from Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Rwanda and Uganda. Each country representative gave an update on the status of Internet Freedom in their countries.
In many of these countries, the threat to internet freedom is real with reports of incessant partial or complete internet shutdowns even in countries where internet penetration is as low as 4%. Surveillance of citizens was also widely reported, especially targeting journalists and perceived opposition groups. Countries with higher penetration rates like Kenya complained that the subscription costs continue to climb higher daily.
Panel 1 – Policy and Regulatory Landscape
Following the country updates, the first panel discussion for the day, on policy and regulatory landscape held. The participants discussed policy landscape as one of the most visible final outcomes of governance, and its import for digital rights. Issues discussed included the relevance of Internet policy to solving poverty and access to amenities in rural Africa, the hindrances caused by primitive politics and undemocratic practices, the role of up-to-date research in informing relevant policies, and how we need to encourage the right policy environment that would keep Africa’s resources and revenues in Africa.
Panelists included Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam, (Vice Chairman, House Committee on Telecommunications, Nigeria), Dr. Akorede Yusuf, (Associate Professor of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria), Henry Maina, (Regional Director East and Horn of Africa, Article 19), Edet Ojo, (Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda), and Lucy Freeman, (Executive Director, Media Legal Defence Initiative).
Following this session was lunch and immediately following lunch, there were parallel sessions. One session was on ‘Digital Rights in Africa -Identifying opportunities for Change’ hosted by Global Partners Digital. It was a session seeking to collaboratively crowdsource a mapping of avenues for engagement and opportunities around internet rights advocacy in Africa.
The second parallel session was on ‘Understanding patterns of Internet Censorship during Political Events’ hosted by Aurthur Gwagwa, a Cybersecurity researcher and human rights lawyer. The third parallel session was on ‘Securing Online free expression through litigation,’ hosted by Medal Legal Defence Initiative. In this session, issues discussed included Internet Shutdown and Blocking, Intermediary liability, Freedom of Freedom of Expression Online and the Right to be forgotten.
Journalists emphasized the hardship they were facing, in that bloggers are being picked up constantly by the rich and the political elites in Nigeria in an attempt to silence them, thereby subverting freedom and justice in Nigeria.
The last main session for Day 1 was a panel discussion on tech tools and circumventions with participants such as Deji Olukotun, (Senior Global Advocacy Manager, AccessNow), Ebele Okobi, (Head of Public Policy, Africa for Facebook), Emmanuel Okochu, (Digital Security Lead, Co-Creation HUB), Azeenarh Mohammed, (Digital Integrity Fellow, Open Technology Fund), Moses Karanja, (Research Fellow, CIPIT, Strathmore Law School, Kenya), and Arthur Gwagwa – (Cybersecurity Researcher and Human Rights Lawyer), and Ronald Kakembo, Digital Security Expert, Frontline Defenders.
DAY 2: Thursday, April 27, 20
Day 2 of the Internet Freedom Forum opened with the panel on ‘Financing Digital Rights.’
Advocacy runs on fortitude but it also requires strong financial commitments for sustainable work. The panel on financing digital rights had Dan Blah Meredith (Open Technology Fund), Titi Akinsanmi, (Head, Policy & Government Relations, Google), Emma Friedheim, (Program Specialist, U.S. Department of State), ‘Gbenga Sesan, (Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative), Charles Bradley, (Executive Director, Global Partners Digital), and Cathleen Berger, (Senior Manager, Global Engagement Mozilla).
Panelists identified an understanding of policy issues, strong research capacity and strong networks as some of the key factors underlying a potentially durable advocacy project. Apart from skills, they also mentioned consistency and demonstrated passion as another set of key indicators for necessary to win funder’s confidence.
Following this panel, there were more updates from countries like Benin, Congo Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Zambia.
This was followed by another panel discussion on ‘Gender and Digital Rights.’ As it was the Girls in ICT Day 2017, the discussion was relevant and apt and bordered on various issues ranging from bullying and harassment online to the basics of affordability and digital education. Panelists included Vivian Affoah, (Senior Program Officer, Communications and Outreaches, Media Foundation West Africa), Julie Owono, (Head of Africa Desk, Internet Sans Frontieres), Nanjira Sambuli, (Digital Equality Advocacy Manager, World Wide Web Foundation), Temitope Ogundipe, (Director of Programs, Paradigm Initiative, Grace Giithaiga, (Co-convenor, Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) and Titi Akinsanmi, (Head, Policy & Government Relations, Google).
Issues discussed ranged from the sexualization of the political process for women in Kenyan politics to how high numbers of phones ownership haven’t necessarily translated to empowerment amongst women and girls. It was an occasion to remember many women in Africa who are not connected yet and have no access to opportunities. The panelists also advocated the conversation on gender should no longer be scheduled as “side events” and taken out to the next room in conferences and forums but should stay and be discussed on the mainstage in the main rooms.
Following this session was lunch, and lunch was followed by 2 parallel sessions as follows:
‘Introducing Jadili: An Interactive ICT policy Data Base’ showcasing how CIPIT, a research centre at Strathmore Law School, has in the last year aggregated laws and policies relevant to the ICT sector in form of an interactive database.
‘Understanding Hate and Dangerous Speech’, a session which explored the tension between prohibiting hate speech and enhancing freedom of speech. The session highlighted the work CITAD had done monitoring dangerous speech (online and in print) and make recommendations for dealing with this. The session was hosted by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD)
The last panel discussion during IFF 2017 was the Difficult Conversations Panel. This panel had a frank and open conversation about a variety of issues often considered the ‘white elephant’ in the room. It considered how advocates for internet rights may need to expand their bubble to include more voices, voices different from theirs and others they are used to. The panel explored the tension between national and/or cybersecurity concerns and respect for rights, especially digital rights; and the commitment of nations to net-neutrality as a basis for openness and innovation. Panelists included (Gigi Alford, Foreign Affairs Officer, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, United States), Kenneth Adu-Amanfoh (Deputy Director, ICT, National Communications Authority, Ghana), Jinmi Oluanuiga, (Managing Director, Business Unusual, Nigeria), Omoyele Sowore, (Publisher, Sahara Reporters) and Anriette Esterhuysen (Director of Advocacy, Association for Progressive Communications). The panel was moderated by Victor Matthias of Channels Television.
The closing remarks were delivered by the Executive Director, ‘Gbenga Sesan, who thanked the sponsors, delegates, speakers, participants and volunteers at IFF2017, and also thanked the team at Paradigm Initiative for organizing the event. Being the Girls in ICT Day 2017, he also enjoined all to come together to bridge the digital gender gap in technology. A call was made for continuous collaboration on advocacy for Internet Freedom. The date for IFF 2018 was announced as 24th-26th April, 2018.