On behalf of the KICTANet community and Paradigm Initiative, I welcome you to Nairobi and to the 2023 Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF).
I first knew ‘Gbenga Sesan in 2016 when Paradigm Initiative was Paradigm Initiative for Nigeria (PIN). Then it grew to reflect a Pan-African image and dropped the N during the 2017 DRIF to be what it is today– Paradigm Initiative (PI).
The DRIF always took place in Nigeria but following COVID PI decentralized DRIF across the continent and held in-country forums. However, in 2023, DRIF is back, in one convening and we are glad that it is taking place here in Nairobi.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) is a multistakeholder think tank for ICT policy and regulation. The network brings together various stakeholders and is a catalyst for reform in the ICT sector. KICTANet’s overall mission is to promote an enabling environment in the ICT sector that is robust, open, accessible, and rights-based through multistakeholderism. We are guided by four pillars: policy advocacy, capacity building, research and multistakeholder engagement, which is evident in our partnership with Paradigm Initiative to host this convening in Nairobi.
At KICTANet, we are glad to be co-hosting the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF) 2023. DRIF is, as you are aware, an important platform where conversations on digital policy in Africa are shaped, policy directions debated and partnerships forged for action.
KICTANet and Paradigm Initiative have collaborated in digital rights advocacy, in several events/convenings and continue to partner under the umbrella of the Africa Internet Rights Alliance (AIRA), which brings together Africa’s foremost digital rights organisations.
This year, the DRIF theme is ‘building a sustainable Internet for all”. The theme is appropriate and timely as it reflects a critical need and aspiration for the continent and the world at large.
Ladies and gentlemen, while Africa lags behind other continents, it has in recent years had the highest growth in global internet penetration, increasing from 1% in 2000 to 43% as of December 2021. Mobile broadband penetration in Africa increased from just under 30% in 2018 to just over 40% in 2021. Part of this growth was spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic (what our chairman Ali Hussein calls – CADIT – COVID-Assisted Digital Transformation). More importantly, we recognise and appreciate the investments by various stakeholders to make internet infrastructure, digital skills and digital devices available to more people across Africa to enable them to enjoy their rights online.
However, as internet penetration rises, so has the digital divide which has left at least 850 million Africans without access to the internet. The most affected groups include women, youth, and people living in rural areas and informal settlements who remain offline and disconnected. Also, there are existing threats to internet users such as rising cybercrimes, internet disruptions, information controls, privacy breaches, and limitations on online civic space that curtail the enjoyment of digital rights.
Building a sustainable internet for all means that we must leave no one behind. We must connect the disconnected. We must address the barriers and gaps that separate millions across the continent from the digital economy and society, whether they be costs, taxes, capacity, skills, information, technology, laws, policies, and so on.
Ladies and gentlemen, we all have a role and a responsibility based on our unique skills, and expertise in our various sectors to build the internet we want for Africa. I, therefore, call upon each one of us, to work towards developing the policies, laws, and strategies, and implement the projects and initiatives that will ensure we connect every person and every home to the internet. It is only through this that we shall enable every person to enjoy their rights online, as they do offline.
Last, but not least, I wish to remind everyone that this Forum is not a talk shop, it is a solution shop.
As we engage in the coming days, I look forward to the various discussions and encourage each one of you – to come up with practical solutions and proposals that if implemented will guarantee a sustainable internet for all.
Finally, when all work is done, Nairobi is a beautiful city. Enjoy the food, culture, scenery and entertainment.