Freedom Online Conference Day 1 Summary

Kenya hosted the second Freedom Online Conference on 6th and 7th September at the UN complex Gigiri. The first one was held in Netherlands. Kenya is amongst three countries in Africa that has signed the Freedom Online Coalition. The coalition has five guiding principles namely:  Expression, Access, openness, Innovation and Privacy. The countries in the coalition agree that offline rights should apply online.
The conference centred around three themes:

  • ICT, entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility,
  • Censorship versus freedom of expression, assembly and association and
  • Access to the Internet: challenges and opportunities

The first two themes resonated throughout the discussions during the first day which was well attended by government officials of different countries, representatives from civil societies and international bodies, companies and bloggers.
It was noted, during the conference, that the internet is a fundamental tool for economic development and that it contributes to the national GDP, with countries such as South Africa having 2% of their GDP coming from the internet .

It however came out that some governments are using creative ways of blocking access to the internet, yet expecting to reap its economic benefits. In Ethiopia, for instance, the only ISP is owned by the government, making the cost of access to be high. Poor infrastructure and censorship were also mentioned to be factor contributing to poor internet freedom in Ethiopia.
The conference discussions also revealed that most people in Africa use mobile internet, with entertainment being one of the major reasons why people access the web via their mobile phones.
There was a call for governments to promote freedom online as it is considered to be part of one of the human rights; the right to expression. Also emphasized, was a need for the internet users to act responsibly online and offline, while exercising their rights.
Paul Kubuko,the CEO of Kenya ICT board, in his speech added that ‘the use of social media is substantial and that a lot of issues emerge first online as the primary source of news, thus recognizing  the growth of online social media in Kenya. He also stated that freedom online and responsible practise is a delicate balance
The other two African countries that have signed the coalition are Ghana and Tunisia.