By Nancy Marangu, Communication and Public Policy Analyst
Information communication technologies (ICTs) have gradually transformed the ways in which people communicate, do business, and live. Real-time information sharing propelled by the internet has dichotomized the ways in which information is shared across jurisdictions. Despite this, benefits are not equally experienced by everyone, especially for populations in rural households. The prevailing challenge is that most remote areas have the lowest connection rates, but perhaps the greatest need for connectivity.
This creates opportunities for civil society to educate and enlighten the masses within rural households on internet governance to bridge the existing digital divide. Civil society includes representatives from non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, community media advocates, volunteers, disability mainstreaming advocates, youth activists, human and communication rights advocates, and any other group that is not in government, has the capacity and capability to serve as agenda setters for internet governance within their communities. It is with this appreciation that KICTANet and Meta hosted an interactive leadership roundtable for stakeholders in Kenya to highlight the emerging concerns arising from the use of Meta Platforms on June 28, 2022.
The event aimed to strengthen the capacity of civil society leaders in shaping internet governance policies and decision-making on local and regional issues as advocates at the community level. It was emphasized that leaders within the civil society space have an environment to explore divergent strategies to localize global internet governance concerns. For example, in optimizing the various Meta Platforms through strategic partnerships, civil society leaders can develop capacity-building programs to educate the underserved rural populations on these existing platforms, as well as opportunities created by them, that include e-commerce and information access. Importantly, youth activists and volunteers can create peer group clubs to enlighten youth groups on the internet/gig economy. The gig economy provides market reach to isolated areas and populations, combined with the ability to offer services anytime and anywhere. While all these opportunities exist, the questions of privacy, data sharing, and online safety also ought to be addressed within the civil space.
Essentially, these are deliberate efforts to actualize the aspirations of the Civil Society Declaration 2003. The Declaration states that society “aspires to build information and communication societies where development is framed by fundamental human rights and oriented to achieve a more equitable distribution of resources, leading to the elimination of poverty in a way that is non-exploitative and environmentally sustainable.” Civil society is also “committed to building societies in which everyone can freely create, access, utilize, share, and disseminate information and knowledge so that individuals, communities, and people are empowered to improve their quality of life and to achieve their full potential”. Thus, turning this declaration into reality implies that civil society can enhance functional digital-driven partnerships within rural households. This will go a long way towards creating a digitally empowered populace with the goal of increasing participation in internet governance discussions and decisions. Ultimately, the goal is to achieve the social and economic advantages that come with a knowledge society.