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Including Young African Voices in Tech Policy with Uffa Modey

Uffa Modey is the Executive Director at Digital Grassroots, and an advocate of under-represented youth in the world of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

She is also the Outreach Coordinator at Eko-Konnect Research and Education Network.

Uffa has designed and led various capacity building aimed at promoting digital literacy for internet governance and digital rights awareness.

You can join us in live conversation with Uffa on May 10th.

How did you get involved with Eko-Konnect and Digital Grassroots?

Eko-Konnect is my day job and Digital grassroots is an organisation I co-founded in collaboration with other youth from different countries across the globe.

Eko-Konnect is a Nigerian research and education network. We work primarily to provide ICT solutions for these universities in Nigeria. But as part of that service we provide, we realized the need to build the technical skills for the students and the staff that make use of these ICT services.

Digital Grassroots, as an organisation that I co-founded, is also focuses on identifying young people in under-represented areas and getting them involved in internet governance and being more aware of all the background work that goes into using the internet as they see it.

They can also be contributors towards the growth of the network and not just users.

I am very passionate about creating avenues for young people from under-represented areas to connect and learn about ICT and develop themselves through different capacity building programmes that I design and I lead.

Why is it important for young Africans to be involved in ICT technology and policy?

In 2017 I attended The Internet Governance Forum. This is a global event hosted by the United Nations that brings all the internet stakeholders: governments, private sector organisations, civil society members, academica and the technical community.

When global policy is being developed, you have people talking about challenges relating to fake news, decentralisation, openness, inclusion, digital literacy. You’re having these kinds of forums where everybody comes together to talk about these things.

It brings all of them together to talk about issues that relate to ICT in our daily lives.

We all need to be pretty much on the same page when it comes to the principles and habits that are accepted online. So this kind of forum creates a safe space to have these kinds of discussions and you’re having representation from all over the world.

But when I attended this event I realised that we are having these important discussions and looking around me I couldn’t see any other African young people apart from the handful who were sponsored to attend this event like me.

But then you have young people from Europe America Asia and they are all at the forefront of challenging norms and talking about what is going on in the network globally, talking about how we can curb fake news, talking about how the network could be leveraged to develop society – online learning, trade, e-commerce and all the other benefits that come from it.

From our side of the globe there wasn’t much contribution.

Why create Digital Grassroots?

This one of the reasons we went ahead to form Digital Grassroots, because we realised it almost like a ripple effect. If young people are not already at the table now, who will have these conversations for us?

We know its not because we are not as smart or because we are not able to have these conversations. Its because we do not understand how these things should be deployed, or how these conversations should go, or even more importantly what the issues are.

But we all use the network. Everyday, everyone is online.

Almost everyone has access to a smartphone and leverages the network in one way or another in daily life. But it shouldn’t stop there. We should be able create these platforms where we contribute to these discussions and map out issues.

African young people should be able to access the state of the network in their local communities and communicate challenges and opportunities bound to the relevant stakeholders.

Whenever it comes to ICT in Africa, everyone is always talking about the technical aspect. How can we get more programmers? How can we get people more involved in writing code and becoming better engineers and getting more technical skills? And nobody really focuses on equipping the youth and young people with the skills to become ICT policy-makers.

The first stage is getting good connectivity. After that, you start discussing everything that can be built on the network. You have e-governance, you have social media which can be used for social change, you have situations where people look at ways to leverage it to better lives and society. And that’s where principles and policies come into play.

You have situations where governments shutdown the internet, that is a norm in Africa. That has a lot to do with tightening the flow of information and free speech. So it shouldn’t stop at being able to have some digital skills, like being able to use a laptop or code well.

You should also be able to look at the background services that apply to the network. We are having e-elections, very sensitive issues like data privacy and ownership. What is acceptable, and what can I say “OK” to?

18% of authors for internet standard proposals are Africans, and these are mostly from Southern and Northern Africa.

It’s the responsibility of all users from everywhere to contribute to this, not just some people. Different realities are different, the issues faced by policy makers in Europe will differ from ours, so it’s only us that can know how we can solve our issues.

There are a lot of data issues when it comes to using the network. How many Africans know what data is OK to share and which is not? How many Africans know the trade-offs they make when they sign up to social media platforms?

Nobody thinks about how this data is used, but on another side of the globe that data is gold. And yet the people who generate this data are excluded and don’t know what value it brings.

All of this makes us relinquish our control in managing what our digital world in Africa should look like.

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