The challenges of digital inclusion in Africa and the innovations we need

The African Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a vibrant and inclusive platform that brings together stakeholders from across the continent to engage in discussions and shape the future of internet governance. The African IGF was established during the global 2011 IGF held in Nairobi where the Council of Ministers of ICT of the African Union approved the institution, thus leading to the first African IGF meeting in Cairo, Egypt, the following year in 2012. The forum has met every year since its inception.

The African IGF brings together dedicated individuals and groups towards fostering open and inclusive dialogue on key issues that are impacting internet governance issues in Africa. This objective aims to promote collaboration, knowledge sharing and informed decision making among diverse stakeholders, including governments, civil society organisations, academia, private sector entities and technical communities. The 12th African IGF was hosted in the Nigerian capital Abuja from 19 to 21 September 2023 with the theme “Transforming Africa’s Digital Landscape: Empowering Inclusion, Security and Innovation”.

The 2023 edition, held both in-person and through online platforms, hosted stakeholders from different parts of Africa as well as the world. Interactive participatory sessions and discussions were organised at the forum and keynote speeches delivered. These raised some key questions, contributions, recommendations and analysis. The forum also provided an avenue for stakeholder interaction, collaborations and partnerships across the continent. Alongside other key stakeholders, the Media Awareness and Justice Initiative (MAJI), with support from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), participated in these sessions and discussions at the event. The aim was to expand MAJI’s understanding of the problem of digital access and learn new approaches, and explore collaborations that can further expand the impact of its work in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

MAJI uses a human-centred approach, and low-cost and accessible technologies to enhance the capacity of rural and urban marginalised groups and communities to amplify voices, strengthen human rights and advocate for sustainable inclusion of marginalised communities and groups across the Niger Delta region. In recent years and in line with MAJI’s focus to help close the digital gap in Nigeria, it has deployed innovative low-cost technology solutions and approaches to rural and urban last-mile communities. This has been achieved through rigorous multistakeholder engagement, capacity building, and community-owned projects that empower stakeholders to use digital tools and digital access to improve economic opportunities, and also provide the platform for these communities to participate more inclusively in social and environmental discussions.

Following our participation at the Africa IGF, MAJI identified several key issues affecting digital inclusion, expansion and use across Africa, including the following:

  1. Consistent challenges across the African continent relate to lack of adequate coverage, high access costs, sustainability of community-owned digital access, and problems with regard to the use of available digital platforms for individual and community development.

  2. The lack of widespread collaborations and targeted stakeholder support continues to hinder the deployment of innovative digital tools and platforms that could increase digital access and improve coverage to last-mile communities across Africa.

  3. The lack of innovative and inclusive digital access policies across Africa continues to stifle and limit proposed approaches and structures that increase digital access and expansion.

These issues were extensively discussed during the interactive and participatory sessions, and MAJI documented the following recommendations from these discussions:

  1. African governments should develop (where not available) or implement (where available) digital inclusion and expansion policies that are realistic and people-oriented.

  2. There have to be increased private/public sector collaborations in advancing digital investment and development in Africa.

  3. MAJI believes that there has been some relative progress in digital penetration in Africa. This, however, needs to be catalysed through increased funding support for civil society organisations (CSOs) and groups with a focus on using community-owned strategies that provide sustainable platforms for digital inclusion of last-mile communities.

  4. Within various African country contexts, there is also a need for CSOs and digital support groups to incorporate the use of low-cost digital tools and data into community campaigns, discussions and engagements.

  5. There is growing interest in adoption and use of digital tools. African countries need to start a discussion around the growing challenge of e-waste and how circular electronic economy and reuse strategies can help to curb this growing challenge.

MAJI has, through its participation in the Africa IGF, identified key factors negatively influencing digital inclusion. To mitigate them, it calls on stakeholders, including government agencies and policy makers, to carry out actions and policies that will promote and support digital inclusion and expansion in last-mile communities across the African continent. These actions should be community-oriented, sustainable and accessible.

 

Onyekachi Okoro Emmanuel is executive coordinator at Media Awareness and Justice Initiative (MAJI) in Nigeria.

 

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