May 13, 2016 in Events, HYF Project, News, Youth Fellow by WYMD Admin

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By Hurford Youth Fellow, Ateki Seta Caxton

The Role of ICTs in enhancing policy reforms and movement building in Africa

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) play a fundamental role in enhancing democracy around the world. They enable advocates to create social platforms through which to mobilize, build campaigns, raise awareness, promote transparency, and hold governments accountable.

Nevertheless, many people in different regions experience difficulties accessing these platforms.  Political leaders are often not sufficiently engaging with their populations because they adapt too slowly to the new social media platforms young people use. They are also reluctant to integrate ICTs in important national political processes because of the dread of unknown political risks presented by hackers. In spite of their potential to simplify and enhance electoral processes, ICTs are often not fully integrated into the process leading to lack of trust in the organization and management of elections. Many activists consider these social platforms as a double edged-sword as they can enhance activism but also expose activists to major risks.

ICTs also face restrictions as some governments threaten to block access, ask major tech companies to remove content or enforce the “right to be forgotten” which request providers to delist links to certain types of “unverified or irrelevant” personal information about individuals upon demand.  This increasing trend sort of confirms the fears of former US President, Ronald Reagan who said “optimism [about democracy] comes less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy’s enemies have refined their instruments of repression.”

As democracy faces decline or the “reverse wave” in many countries, several questions are being raised among which are about the role of technology in advancing democracy: how would ICTs contribute in bridging gaps between the population especially civil society and political society; how would technology contribute to improve transparency and government accountability; how can technology enable policy reforms, election monitoring and movement building? What can we do to rescue free media that have been hijacked by authoritarian regimes?

In order to evaluate how different organizations were using ICTs to enhance their work within some of the different contexts mentioned above, I hosted an online discussion on April 7, 2016 on the Role of ICTS in Enhancing Policy Reforms and Movement-building in Africa. With panelists from across Africa we discussed some of the questions and challenges and shared experiences on the field.

In order to prepare for this discussion, I consulted different sources and resources. Below, I share some referential material and a few links to some of the themes around this discussion. The sources have been classified under different topics which were relevant for this discussion.

  1. 1.       The importance of ICTs to promoting democracy

A)     Article/Program: ICT4Gov

Author / Date: World Bank (Tiago Carneiro Peixoto and Boris Weber) 12/19/2012

Key Source consulted:

This article on the website of the World Bank describes the Information and Communication Technology for Governance (ICT4Gov) program in Brazil and the philosophy behind it. If, for instance, citizens can provide feedback to government about service delivery, and even rate the quality of specific programs, then government will have more information to prioritize service delivery and should be more accountable to citizens. Increased civic participation leads to better governance. Technology, especially increasingly ubiquitous cell phones, but also the Internet, makes it easier for ordinary people to engage directly with government; citizens become better advocates for getting the services that they most need, and governments can deliver those services more effectively. Read more here

B)     Article/Program: Liberation Technology, Journal of Democracy, Volume 21, Number 3, pp. 69-83

Author / Date: Larry Diamond / July 2010

Key Sources consulted:

Larry Diamond, in this piece explains Liberation Technologies as any form of informal and communication technology that can expand political, social and economic freedom. In the contemporary era, it means essentially the modern interrelated forms of digital technology including the computer, internet, mobile phones and countless innovative applications for them including new social media such as Facebook and Twitter. He explains their importance in monitoring governance and exposing abuse with examples from experiences in China, Malaysia, and many other countries. Read more about this article here

C)     Other Sources

ICTs in Support of Human Rights, Democracy and Good Governance by Audrey N. Selian

ICT Governance in the United Nations System 

  1. 2.       Ensuring access to the poor
  2. Article/Program:

Author / Date: Launched by Facebook and others in August 2013

Key Source consulted:

In order to facilitate access to the poor, Facebook initiated – a partnership between Facebook and six other companies (Samsung, MediaTek, Opera Software, Ericsson, Nokia and Qualcomm), that brings access to selected Internet services to less developed countries by increasing efficiency, and facilitating the development of new business models around the provision of Internet access. One of the most prominent features of this initiative is enabling access to a limited number of sites for free. The initiative was criticized for violating net neutrality since Facebook acted as a gatekeeper to the sites permitted. The Free Basics platform formerly known as “Internet Zero,” was introduced May 2015, and as an open platform that gives developers the opportunity to make their services and websites available free of cost to those who cannot afford internet access. Through this, they can access a range of free basic services like news, maternal health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication, and local government information. On the website it is stated: “Through our connectivity efforts, we’ve brought more than 25 million people online who otherwise would not be and introduced them to the incredible value of the internet. They’re doing better in school, building new businesses, and learning how to stay healthy. Here are a few stories of how Free Basics is having an impact. Read more here

  1. Article/Program: Airbus to build satellites for OneWeb to beam Internet from space

Author / Date: Irene Klotz and Lisa Shumaker/ June 2015

Key Source consulted: 

OneWeb aims to launch a more than 900 tiny satellites designed to beam high-speed Internet down to Earth. The satellites will orbit about 750 miles high much closer to Earth than current Internet providing satellites, which are now 22,000 miles away. The shorter distance will speed up delivery of the signal. The service is expected to begin by 2019

  1. Article/Program: Google, Facebook, SpaceX, OneWeb plan to beam Internet everywhere

Author / Date: CNN (Thom Patterson, video produced by Rachel Crane) November 9, 2015

Key Source consulted:

SpaceX, which already serves the International Space Station, plans to put 4,000 small, low-cost, disposable satellites into orbit. Satellites would orbit about 750 miles above the Earth to allow for faster service. In January, Google and Fidelity provided $1 billion to fund the project and testing of the technology is expected to begin in 2016.

Read more about these initiatives here

  1. D.     Other Sources

Key Findings – The State of Broadband 2015

UN Broadband Commission targets 

  1. 3.       The debate on internet freedom
  2. A.      Article/Program: Overview of Internet Censorship

Author / Date: Open Net Initiative / Consulted May 1, 2016

Key Source consulted:

Internet censorship is the control or suppression of what can be accessed, published, or viewed on the Internet.  Drawing on arguments that are often powerful and compelling such as “securing intellectual property rights,” “protecting national security,” “preserving cultural norms and religious values,” and “shielding children from pornography and exploitation,” many states are implementing extensive filtering practices to curb the perceived lawlessness of the medium. Individuals and organizations may engage in self-censorship for moral, religious, or business reasons, to conform to societal norms, due to intimidation, or out of fear of legal or other consequences. Internet freedom is the need to ensure that anyone, anywhere in the world, has access to the global Internet as an open platform on which to innovate, learn, organize, and express herself free from undue interference or censorship. This debate has a lot of implications on the way governments develop laws, on how tech companies provide services, costs etc

i.            Other Sources

Freedom on the Net 2015 report (Freedom House)

  1. B.      Article/Program: Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now

Author / Date: Save the Internet / Consulted April 1, 2016

Key Source consulted:

Net Neutrality means an Internet that enables and protects free speech. It means that Internet service providers should provide us with open networks — and should not block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks. Owners of the access networks have tremendous gatekeeper power. They are treated as “common carriers,” meaning they cannot block or discriminate against the content that flows across their networks to/from your computer. Just as your phone company shouldn’t decide who you can call and what you say on that call, Internet Service Providers shouldn’t be concerned with the content you view or post online. Without Net Neutrality, cable and phone companies could carve the Internet into fast and slow lanes. An Internet Service Provider (ISP) could slow down its competitors’ content or block political opinions it disagreed with. ISPs could charge extra fees to the few content companies that could afford to pay for preferential treatment — relegating everyone else to a slower tier of service. This would destroy the open Internet.

ii.            Other Sources

iii.   (Electronic Frontiers Foundation)

Tim Wu, is a strong proponent of Net Neutrality. (Net Neutrality, President Obama’s plan for a free and open internet)

  1. 4.       Government Filtering
  2. A.      Article/Program: Russia’s Internet Crack Down

Author / Date: CIMA/ April 28, 2016

Key Source consulted:

The extent of Internet censorship varies from country-to-country. While most democratic countries have moderate Internet censorship, other countries such as Russia go as far as to limit the access of information such as news and suppress discussion among citizens. Internet censorship also occurs in response to or in anticipation of events such as elections, protests, and riots. Other areas of censorship include copyrights, defamation, harassment, and obscene material. Several methods have been used by countries like establishing a centralized tightly controlled gate way, the blocking of accounts, requesting for removal of content or demanding access to users’ data), Data localization and Right to be forgotten. In this article on CIMA, some of the methods authoritarian governments employ to crack down on activists or tech companies are examined

i.            Request for removal: When some governments don’t like the content on certain web pages, they contact the companies to request for removal. 

Other Sources

Read Google’s report on government requests for removal

      ii.            Data localization: Measures, regulations requiring companies to store and process data on servers physically located within national borders – are increasing around the world. Some countries have pushed the concept of “digital sovereignty,” through new laws requiring foreign Internet companies to store the personal data of users within their country’s borders. This then enables the governments to access or control the data that are on these servers, violating the principles of Net Neutrality. 

Other Sources

Read this 2015 report on Data localization here 

iii.            The right to be forgotten: A concept discussed and put into practice in the European Union (EU) and arising from desires of individuals to “determine the development of their life in an autonomous way, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized as a consequence of a specific action performed in the past. However, online technologies fear some governments may abuse this right by taking out vital information offline. Russia’s new “right to be forgotten” law, which took effect on January 1, 2016, requires Internet search engines, such as Yandex and Google, to delist links to certain types of “unverified or irrelevant” personal information about individuals upon request, or face potential fines of up to 1 million rubles ($15,000). Russian activists have expressed fears that the law will be abused for political censorship, and many, including Yandex, have advocated for a clause explicitly protecting information of public significance. Yandex reports having already received 3,600 “right to be forgotten” requests over the first three months of 2016, 700 of which it says concerned information that could be considered of public importance. Read more here 

Other Sources

Russia’s right to be forgotten law takes effect

  1. B.      Other Sources

Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

Oxford Internet Institute 

Brazil just banned Whatsapp for 72 hours

  1. 5.       Important “internet invariants”
  2. A.      Article/Program: Internet Invariants: What Really Matters

Author / Date: Internet Society / February 3, 2012

Key Source consulted:

Internet invariants are key features of the Internet that make it such a good platform for innovation and whose loss might harm the network’s ability to support unexpected developments in future. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook or even the web are able to thrive because of these features summarized as Global reach and integrity; General purpose; Permissionless Innovation; Openness/Accessibility (to consume and contribute); Interoperability; Collaboration; Building Block Technologies; No Permanent Favorites. Some governments wish to apply physical geography (and jurisdiction) to the Internet. This can arise in both positive (enforcing our laws on our Internet) and negative (excluding others from enforcing their laws on our Internet) forms. Whatever the policy practices would be, it is important to maintain these invariants

  1. B.      Other Sources

Internet Invariants, Things worth fighting for

On the nature of the internet 

  1. 6.       Safety measure for activists
  2. A.         Article/Program: Activist or protester? How to keep you and your communications safe wherever your campaigning takes you

Author / Date: Surveillance Self Defense / Accessed April 4, 2016

Key Source consulted:

With prevalent phishing, online scams, malware, nowadays, when working with online tools as a reformer net safety is important. It is essential to understand the evolving trends so as to keep up to speed with the changes. Surveillance Self Defense provides a step-by-step guide on how to stay safe online. Some browsers such as Opera includes a free built-in Virtual Private Network (VPN), a common tool for getting round online censorship, with unlimited data usage.

  1. B.      Other Sources

Here is a checklist for staying safe online from the Prat Library

And much more here

Net Safety 

  1. 7.       Data sources

Here are a couple of links to find data on internet statistics around the world (For live statistics on internet use around the world)

The World Bank also has country statistics

  1. 8.       Examples of exploring ICTs in areas with limited access to promote democracy

NDI has a long history of pursuing a number of projects around the world using ICTs and connecting societies with low access rates to promote democracy. Here NDI explains their strategy

CIMA has great reports about work in areas with huge government crackdown n the internet

Democracy tech Squad Mali is an initiative designed to promote democracy in west Africa using ICT tools

Veritas Zimbabwe


Other Useful links from the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA)

IJNet is the premier global website for journalists and media managers to learn about training and networking opportunities.

Freedom House 

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world. Freedom House publishes an annual Freedom on the Net report. The 2012 report is the third in a series of comprehensive studies of internet freedom around the globe and covers developments in 47 countries. It also publishes the weekly China Media Bulletin, an update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People’s Republic of China.


Global Voices Advocacy | Netizen Report

Global Voices Advocacy’s weekly Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.


Global Policy Weekly

The Center for Democracy and Technology’s Global Policy Weekly highlights the latest Internet policy developments and proposals from around the world, compiled by CDT’s Global Internet Freedom Project.


Initiative for Freedom of Expression and Internet

The Center on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information at the University of Palermo conducts research on freedom of expression and the Internet as part of its mission to provide information to journalists, government institutions, and academics, especially in Latin America. Most of the publications are in Spanish.



Access is an international non-profit non-governmental organization that defends and extends the digital rights of users at risk around the world. By combining innovative policy, user engagement, and direct technical support, we fight for open and secure communications for all.


The Institute for War & Peace Reporting

IWPR’s Cyber Arabs program provides comprehensive, easy-to-understand digital security support to activists and journalists across the Arab world.


Deeplinks Blog

Online censorship, privacy, and surveillance information from Electronic Frontier Foundation.


The Open Net Initiative

The OpenNet Initiative is a collaborative partnership of three institutions: the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; and the SecDev Group (Ottawa).


NDItech | democracyworks

The NDItech DemocracyWorks blog provides a platform for NDI to engage in ongoing conversations about the important and increasing role technology plays in politics and democratic development. The blog is managed by NDI’s ICT (information and communication technology) team.


Social Media Exchange

Social Media Exchange (SMEX) is a social enterprise that offers training and consulting on social media and online strategy to both nonprofit and for-profit organizations in Lebanon and the Arab world.


SalamaTech Syria

SalamaTech Syria seeks to improve the online safety and security of the Syrian people, and to enhance the free flow of information in Syria. To this end, it provides information, analysis, tools and resources dedicated to enhancing digital safety and openness in Syria. The project is administered by The SecDev Foundation, a Canadian not-for-profit organization, with funding from granting bodies in North America.


Other Links to consult (provides links to different resources) rating the impact of new technologies on democracy


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