Saturday, 19 March 2011

African Youth and Internet Governance Issues

Youth and Internet Governance Issues Panel at IGF Ghana. L to R: @kajsaha, @gamelmag, @AmmaBaffoe @gkahuma and @MacJordan.

The first Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held in Ghana took place last Friday, 11th March 2011 at the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT. IGF Ghana is a multi-stakeholder platform encompassing civil society, business, government, academia and the technical community to discuss issues regarding the governance of the Internet in Ghana. Under the theme "Internet as a catalyst for change: access, development, freedoms and innovation", the forum is a prelude to regional and global IGFs scheduled to take place in Lagos and Nairobi respectively later in the year. I was privileged to be part of deliberations on Youth and Internet Governance Issues together with some GhanaBlogging colleagues
at the forum. This post sums my views on some of the key discussions points.

How do young people view themselves as Internet users?

Young people can play a variety of roles as Internet users: developers, designers, researchers, content builders (bloggers, writers, etc), technical people, policy makers, activists, community coordinators, marketers and end-consumers. Though some of these roles overlap, it is very important for each Internet user to identify the role(s) she wants to play (or can play effectively) for best results. Many young people who're passionate about technology tend to be involved in almost all the outlined activities, thus reducing the impact they could have made in one field or the other.

The youth and social networks

In the advent of social media and web 2.0, social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and foursquare have become the fulcra around which the internet activities of today's youth revolve. Social networks have become crucial to connect, engage, share, learn, relax, publicise and achieve results. Because of social networks, national boundaries are literally melting down as different cultures fast zoom towards convergence. Therefore the lure of being part of the bigger global picture seems to leave no space for localized or nationalized social networking sites as even Facebook, twitter and co, have opened their platforms to run different kinds of applications that serve local needs. One crucial point of concern is privacy and safety issues. Young Internet users are aware of potential security breaches associated with social media, but often overlook them as they are more focused on the numerous advantages that these platforms have to offer. Security goes side-by-side with connections, so social network users must go about their activities with great circumspection. They should take time to investigate the backgrounds of suspicious characters and promptly change their passwords with the slightest indication of an attack.

What is the role of mobile operators in Internet governance matters?

Mobile operators, as key stakeholders in the Internet sector, must actively collaborate with government, regulatory agencies and consumers to debate and implement policy e.g. SIM registration and number portability. This is very crucial in our part of the world as many Internet users access the web through mobile devices. In addition, telcos must strive to:

  • Improve accessibility by making their services available throughout the country and not just in major cities
  • Improve quality especially speed when it comes to their mobile broadband packages
  • Improve pricing by reducing both cost of connection and cost of data packages
  • Develop exciting applications that encourage young people to use the Internet constructively
  • Open up their platforms for young innovative developers to build apps on top

How can youth participation in Internet governance issues be increased?

Firstly, the youth must be educated about Internet governance issues and sensitized on their crucial role in Internet governance. Also, since the youth form the bulk of Internet users, they must be well-represented on all relevant bodies pertaining to the use of Internet in Ghana and Africa. Thirdly, the youth must forge common positions on key Internet governance matters through continuous engagement through identifiable youth groups and within larger groups e.g. Internet Society of Ghana.

Outstanding issues

The discussion left a few questions that are worth contemplating on: Is there life after social networks? Do you have a right to be forgotten? What are government's next steps with regards to engaging the youth in Internet governance?

Overall, the youth panel is a great start to getting young people involved in the internet governance process. It was a wonderful learning opportunity for me. Also, check out Kajsa's report for more info.

There were other sessions/workshops on Internet Governance for Development (IG4D), Critical Internet Resources, emerging Issues, Access and Diversity, Security Openness and Privacy, and Multi-stakeholder approach to Internet Governance. IGF Ghana is collaboration between the West African IGF Consortium, Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT, Internet Society Ghana Chapter, GhNOG, GISPA and GARNET. The event was supported by National Communications Authority (NCA), the Ministry of Communications and hosted by National Information Technology Agency.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Increasing Female Participation in Science and Technology in Africa

This post is part of the monthly group blogging series of GhanaBlogging Group for the month of March.
One of the central themes of the month of March every year is the celebration of International Women's Day (IWD). The year 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of this global celebration. In Ghana, an awards ceremony and a mountain-climbing challenge were some of the events held last Tuesday, 8th March, to mark the day. Commentaries and reflections on the positive (prominent leadership roles in politics and business) and negative (gender violence and maternal mortality) situations of our women folk have been pouring in like torrents of rain in a tropical rainforest. In the spirit of the times, this post seeks to propose some solutions to the low female participation in science and technology in Africa.
Identify the cultural barriers and remove them
Traditional African society discourages girls and young women from scientific careers through deliberate and non-deliberate means. Firstly, societal norms encourage young girls to study "reading subjects" to the detriment of "calculation subjects" in high school. Secondly, girls tend to have more domestic responsibilities than boys, and therefore less study time. Thus prevailing culture is a great disincentive to female participation in science and technology. We must consciously remove these barriers in order to see more female participation in the sciences
Identify the psychological barriers and remove them
A number of psychological problems also stand in the girls' way. One of the most notable ones is the morbid fear of mathematics. Now, mathematics is at the root of all sciences, and it is unimaginable to execute any scientific study without control over math. This puts our young girls in a tight corner. Another obvious one is the lack of self-confidence in young girls. Confidence inspires rigorous critical thinking, creativity, experimentation and problem-solving, essential skills required for scientific and technological excellence. Special strategies must be developed to exorcise fear of mathematics and lack of confidence in African girls.
Highlight achievements of successful female scientists
There are many hidden successful African women scientists and technologists who have excelled in their chosen fields. Some of them are:
  • Dr Wangari Muta Maatha- Noble laureate and leader of the Green Belt Movement
  • Prof Marian Ewurama Addy- Professor of Biochemistry and President of Anglican University of Technology, Ghana
  • Prof (Mrs) Afua Hesse-Professor of Paediatric Surgery and President of Medical Women's International Association (MWIA)
  • Silvian Wanjiku Gitau-Mobile Health Software Developer and Google Anita Borg Scholarship Winner
The achievements of these trailblazers must be widely publicized so as to empower aspiring female scientists and give them credible examples to look up to. If these African women can make it, the young girl growing up somewhere in Bawku can make it too!
Scrap affirmative action and quota system
I disagree with attempts to "level the playing field" through the practice of admitting females into science and technology programmes, in high schools and universities, at lower grades than males. Quota systems help to increase female numbers in the sciences, only for them to be intimidated by the achievements of their male colleagues. Some of them even drop out such "overwhelming" courses. Girls should be supported to boost their performances first and then recruited into academic programmes solely based on merit. This arrangement will boost their confidence and make them more competitive in male-dominated environments, since they see themselves as equals and capable to excel.
It is crucial for national development to increase female participation in science and technology. In my opinion, removal of psycho-cultural barriers, identification of role models and merit-based admission systems are some of the methods to close the gender gap in the sciences. Do you agree or disagree with these points? What are some of the problems that hinder full participation of women in science and technology in Africa? What solutions do you think will help to take these problems away? Share your thoughts!