Internet and Technology-related Challenges and Opportunities Facing NGOs in Africa

by ‘Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative

In many countries across Africa, NGOs are citizens’ only access to basic needs. Some of Africa’s most important needs include access to universal human rights and digital connectivity via the Internet. As a result of the dire socio-economic and political situation in many parts of Africa, the rights of men, women and children are often trampled upon, and many are cut off from life-transforming opportunities that are accessed through the Internet. The right to life, fair hearing, freedom of speech, association, right to information, privacy and other human rights are regularly trampled upon on a continent where millions are without an Internet connection and cannot access digital devices.

In this digital age, where many human rights are now expressed digitally, repressive governments have found new avenues for the abuse of citizens. As much of our lives are now spent on digital platforms, digital rights – such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression – are becoming more important. This is especially important in the African context where the clampdown on digital rights and media freedoms are intricately linked with poor governance and corruption endemic to much of the continent.

Moreover, failed policies of governments across Africa, which have resulted in multiple taxation and poor regulatory oversight, further limit access to the Internet and digital tools of many who need them most to live more meaningful lives.

Many African countries lack the legal and policy framework to adequately protect the rights of their citizens in the digital age. The laws which could potentially cover digital rights issues are archaic colonial laws which have not been updated for decades. In countries which have recognised the problem, and written – or revised – laws to cater for the digital age, these laws often have vague provisions that grant governments broad powers of arrest and surveillance of citizens. Also, many governments in Africa do not see the clear connection between digital connectivity and improved outcomes in health, education and finance for their citizens.

As digital rights and digital inclusion become more important, however, the level of funding support for NGOs working in this field may be shrinking. Some potential funding institutions fail to see the link between digital rights and inclusion, and all the other objectives and priorities they would rather fund on the continent – healthcare, education and good governance.

On a continent rapidly going digital, digital rights and inclusion are central to the realisation of Africa’s development objectives, including those that have been the traditional areas of focus.

Paradigm Initiative will continue to be at the forefront of advocating digital rights and inclusion in Africa. We are convinced they are critical to the attainment of better life outcomes, and should be enjoyed by the millions of Africans rapidly adopting digital technologies.

‘Gbenga Sesan is the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, with headquarters in Nigeria and operations across Africa. Originally trained as an Electronic and Electrical Engineer at Obafemi Awolowo University, he also completed Executive Education programmes at Lagos Business School, New York Group for Technology Transfer, Oxford University, Harvard University, Stanford University, Santa Clara University and University of the Pacific. He is a former member of the United Nations Committee of eLeaders on Youth and ICT, and served as a member of the Presidential committees on Harmonization of Information Technology, Telecommunications and Broadcasting Sectors (2006), and Roadmap for the Achievement of Accelerated Universal Broadband Infrastructure and Services Provision (2013).

This is the tenth NGO analysis of my 2018 #NGOs4Africa Campaign.

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