UNESCO discusses with stakeholders how Internet Universality principles are relevant to East Africa

The second Forum on Internet Freedom in East Africa that took place in Kampala, Uganda, on 28 to 29 September 2015, provided a platform for UNESCO to introduce the latest UNESCO flagship research on Internet Freedom. Making reference to the new study, Principles for Governing the Internet: A Comparative Analysis of 52 Internet-specific declarations and frameworks, UNESCO speakers spoke in support of multistakeholder consultative processes related to Internet freedoms in Africa.

The forum that brought together over 150 stakeholders from 37 countries from the ICT sector, academia, human rights entities, the media, the arts community, law enforcement agencies and communication regulators. It was organised by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) to debate on issues influencing internet freedoms and cyber security in East Africa.

CIPESA used the forum to launch its State of Internet Freedoms in East Africa 2015 Report, which explores citizens’ knowledge and perceptions of internet freedom and the effect of information controls on the online behaviours and freedom of expression for citizens, journalists and human rights defenders.

During the keynote address, UNESCO’s regional advisor for Communication and Information, Jaco du Toit also drew from the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development to highlight some of the trends in media freedom, media pluralism and safety of journalists.

Internet Universality principles of human-rights, openness, accessibility and multi-stakeholder participation were introduced, and linked to African development.

He highlighted the relevance of all these to the growing digital landscape, especially in view of the quadrupled internet penetration rate in Africa between 2007 and 2012 and the tripled mobile-cellular subscriptions during the same period. 

Participating in a panel discussion that focused on how Africa can embrace Internet freedom, Ms Lydia Gachungi, Communication and Information Specialist in the UNESCO Juba Office, outlined the most common guiding principles for internet governance, as identified from 52 Internet-specific declarations and frameworks analysed by UNESCO.

Ms Gachungi noted that aspects such as ethics and gender were key principles for internet governance but were contained in very few Internet related declarations and frameworks. “It is important that stakeholders identify these gaps and start addressing them through a multistakeholder process, as they search for answers to the question of which way for Internet freedoms,” she stated.

Some of the other issues raised by UNESCO during the two day deliberations include the importance of sensitization campaigns on what constitutes online freedoms and the important need to further media and information literacy for online users.

Also underlined was the importance of inclusive national regulatory frameworks that adhere to human-rights, openness, and accessibility, elaborated through multistakeholder consultative processes.

UNESCO facilitated the participation of participants from South Sudan, Rwanda and Somalia.  During a side discussion held with the forum organisers, a roadmap to the establishment of the Internet Society (ISOC) chapter in South Sudan was agreed on.

UNESCO Juba office and CIPESA pledged their support in working with the national partners and the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services, in ensuring the necessary structures for the ISOC chapter.  

Participants from Rwanda and Somalia were supported within the framework of the project, entitled “Promoting an Enabling Environment for Freedom of Expression”. This project is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and aims at fostering the development of free, independent and pluralistic media. It also promotes institutional capacity-building, the empowerment of women through widened access to information and the role of young people in dialogue, reconciliation and sustained peace.