Chelsea Hotel, Central Area Abuja at the present time hosts the Internet Freedom Forum, which in spite of the rain this morning, attendants and speakers showed up and the hall is packed. So far it’s been both enlightening and informative.
The forum was introduced by Tolu Adeleru-Balogun, a TV/Radio host. Gbenga Sesan, the Executive Director of PINigeria, gave the welcome address during which he warned that during the next few months we might need to raise money to bail him out of prison because he would definitely disobey the Social Media Bill if it succeeds.
Immediately following Gbenga’s soeech was a speech from Nano Jensen, the keynote speaker. She spoke on the freedom of expression on every platform.
During her address she stated that for democracy to function properly the people have to be able to express themselves freely and that any country that claims to practice democracy, yet tries to restrict freedom of expression is operating a sham.
According to her, “The foras that allow us to exchange ideas online should be able to allow us to do so without being curtailed.” She revealed the situation in countries like Pakistan where websites and social media platforms get blocked at will and referred to the blocking of websites as “the most extreme form of online censorship.”
As revealed by Nano Jenson, Pakistan is the top country that pulls down websites. Turkey comes a close second. Unfortunately. These countries do not have any formal procedure to challenge such practice.
Ms Jensen, who advocates for the rights of bloggers and journalists to express themselves, during her speech, touched on the importance of social media for active citizenship and journalism. Social media, in her opinion, enables journalists to be productive and to create reliable news story.
Walter Scott, the African American, who was a victim of police violence, would have been just another statistic and the true story would have remained hidden had an observer not recorded the incident and shared on social media. For this reason, she stated, is it important for free access to the internet -to ensure that the truth is not buried.
Immediately after Nani’s speech, there was a panel session made up of panelists from across countries in Africa. It had Moses Karanja (Kenya), Kathleen Ndongmo (Cameroon), Kofi Leone Kouame (Cote d’Ivoire) who did a great job of trying to speak the English language despite it not being his official language, Demba Kandeh (Gambia) and lastly, Dora Mawutor (Ghana).
They all spoke about the situation of internet freedom in their countries and from this it can be gathered that the leaders of most African countries have one thing in common, which is their effort to restrict freedom online and limit the power of the citizens to exercise freedom of expression.
There was a tea break which lasted for thirty minutes after which the second panel began. This session consisted of women only and is in celebration of the International Women’s day . ‘Women’s Rights Online’ was the theme for this session.
Chioma Agwuegbo moderated this panel consisting of Roselin Kamdem of African Youth Alliance Group, Grace Githaiga of Kenya ICT Action Network, Ebele Okobi who is the Head of Public Policy, Africa, Facebook, Ashnah Kalemera, the programmes Associate, CIPESA, Uganda and finally Nana Nwachukwu who is the African Representative, iTechLaw Association, Nigeria.
Online bullying and shaming have chased lots of women away from the online space thereby reducing the amount of women contributing online. The few who remain try to censor everything they post. This panel discussed the issues women face online and the ways to protect women’s rights.
Ebele Obi, the Head of Public Policy, Africa, Facebook, opined that it isn’t enough to keep talking about including women in online discussions. It is important that there’s actual infrastructure that allows women to be connected else things will remain the same for women.
The Internet Freedom Forum will continue immediately after the lunch break with a session that will include the Senate President, Doctor Bukola Saraki. Check back soon for more on #IFF2016.