By Joyce Mukucha
In pursuit of building, promoting, and defending the internet, the Internet Society (ISOC) last week hosted the first-ever Zimbabwean Chapter School of Internet Governance which was aimed at unpacking important aspects pertaining to governing as well as the use of the digital space by different people from various backgrounds.
The three-day virtual school created an opportunity for speakers and participants to discuss fundamental principles and characteristics underpinning the internet, regulatory perspectives on internet governance, human rights and the internet, internet shutdowns, and the role of African chapters among other engaging discussions.
In his opening remarks, the senior Policy Advisor for Africa Internet Society, Verengai Mabika said among the 35 African chapters, Zimbabwe was counted as the most active thus the school’s main thrust was aimed at improving operations of the internet in Zimbabwe and beyond.
“It is imperative to promote positive frameworks that support the growth of the internet. Zimbabwe is one of the very active chapters in Africa, especially during this Covid-19 period. According to the Postal Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), Zimbabwe’s internet penetration rate is 61% as compared to other sister countries that are at 60% and it’s not that easy for countries to be above this 60%.
“The school is dedicated to unpacking internet issues in our country and beyond. We are hoping to have more of these learning sessions to improve the operations of interest in our region. I’m glad that you are all taking an active role in as much as understanding the internet is concerned. We still need to fight to ensure that we connect more people who are still not yet online. For all of you who are online, keep on connecting to the spaces,” said Mabika.
He added that there was a need to ensure that those who are connected are fully enjoying the digital space highlighting that it was important to have practical laws that protect their online rights.
Mabika also stated that the Internet Society was working tirelessly to support internet deployment to make sure that it contributes to better building and development of various communities.
The Zimbabwe Internet Governance Forum (ZIGF) president, Cade Zvavanjanja said ZIGF was open for everyone who feels like participating as he also explained that stakeholders, particularly the general public, should strive and decide the way they want the digital space to operate in the way they desire.
“Zimbabwe Internet Governance Forum is open for everyone to interact at any time and it is important for stakeholder groups to become organised to make sure that the internet works in the way they want it to. Also, service providers should be engaged to ensure the reduction of digital costs to make sure that it becomes affordable to everyone and at the same time increasing participation. There should be also structures from grassroots levels aimed at ensuring that everyone is connected,” he said.
Articulating on human rights and the internet, Simbarashe Machiridza who is a lawyer pointed out that everyone who is connected is entitled to human rights indicating that legislative dynamics are vital when it comes to internet human rights.
He highlighted that there should be security, freedom as well as democracy when it comes to digital space participation.
Machiridza also emphasised that challenges will continue to be experienced if data is not affordable to everyone indicating that it is explicit discrimination and lack of equality.
Presenting on the main internet stakeholders and their respective roles, ZIGF’s current president, Tawanda Maguze stressed that a multi-stakeholder approach was key concerning the development and full use of the internet.
He highlighted that for a long time, there are particular stakeholders who have been disconnected as he explained the need for those in control (service providers) to work collectively to ensure that everyone can access the internet.
“No development can take place when the people are not working with the goal to develop. Therefore, when it comes to internet governance, multi-stakeholder-ism is imperative. It is now a critical time to engage with Parliamentarians, service providers such as POTRAZ, and the academia among other groups to make sure that the most overlooked groups when it comes to digital participation are all included.
“Stakeholders are the ones who can affect the operation of the internet, that is the civil society (ordinary people). Within civil society, we have different sub-categories with different interests, for example, youths, people with disabilities, and women among other groups and it is important to consider all this,” he said.
Maguze added that there was a need to close the digital participation gap between the haves and have nots and ensure that it becomes an equal world for everyone as much as participation in the digital space is concerned.
“There are groups that have been forgotten over time and there is a need to ensure that an opportunity is created for them so that they are able to participate and discuss political, economic, social, and cultural issues just like everyone else. It is important also to monitor if those who are connected are affording the data costs. There is also need for ordinary citizens as the important stakeholders to become fully organised and capacitated to let their voices out and guide the operations of service providers and those in control to meet their demands.”
Shedding more light on internet governance in Zimbabwe, Southern African Development Community, and Africa as a whole, Digitally Legal Chief Executive Officer in South Africa, Zanyiwe Nthatisi-Asare said they were making concerted efforts to ensure that those in South African rural communities are also connected.
“There is a need to close the digital gap and from the South African perspective, we are working with authorities responsible to ensure that people in urban-distant communities are connected and models are there to make sure this becomes a success. Community networking is imperative when it comes to tackling problems so there is a need for government to have specific budgets and plans to resolve challenges of connectivity. This shouldn’t be only for South Africa and Zimbabwe but for the SADC region and the continent at large,” she said.
This was seconded by the Founder and Team Leader for Uganda Digital Literacy Initiative, Joana Katambi who highlighted that in her country they were striving to connect everyone.
She pointed out that technology plays a critical role as a unifier in an evolving world highlighting that a lot of work was being done through conducting digital programmes in Uganda teaching girls and women to code and also equipping those in rural areas with digital skills.
The Policy and Governance Officer who is also the CHac-SC Vice-Chairperson, Wadzanai Ndlovu urged attendees to go and impart the knowledge to others and also encouraged them to be futuristic when they perceive the internet so that they can make changes in their different communities.