MISA Zimbabwe on 15 November 2019, held its annual Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Conference in Harare, Zimbabwe under the theme: Getting everyone involved in the Internet Governance dialogue.
This annual event was first launched in 2015 with the aim of demystifying Internet governance issues as well as providing a platform for citizens to engage with other Internet governance stakeholders such as government, service providers and civil society organisations working to promote Internet freedoms in Zimbabwe and the region.
Unlike past Internet Governance Conferences, this year’s edition brought in various participants from the Southern African region and other parts of the continent such as Kenya. This was driven by the need for Internet freedom activists to come together at a regional level to strategise on how best to keep the Internet accessible and open.
This regional approach is justified when one considers the fact that the Internet is a global resource that extends beyond geographical borders given the striking similarities in how African governments regulate the Internet.
In his keynote address, the organisation’s national director Tabani Moyo said platforms of expression were now contested terrains in the wake of relentless efforts to regulate and minimise their use to further narrow political output.
He pointed out the use of internet shutdowns, the use of algorithms, authoritarianism, unconducive privacy laws and high costs on Internet-based services, as methods used to inhibit online expression.
Furthermore, the use of high taxes and costs to hinder Internet usage was seen as a new challenge that has caused further harm to the realisation of digital rights and freedoms locally and regionally.
This comes amid the January Internet shutdowns in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), an increase in harassment on Internet users in Tanzania, and pervasive inhibiting taxes and costs across the Southern African region.
Similarities in which free speech online is restricted across southern Africa were raised in presentations by Aubrey Chikungwa the MISA Malawi director, Idda Mushi a MISA Tanzania board member, and Austin Kayanda, the MISA Zambia director, who gave an overview of the digital rights landscape in their respective countries.
Southern African countries are introducing laws that criminalise online free speech and access to information as well as levying taxes on Internet-based services. This ultimately leads to higher Internet access costs that lead to a decline in the number of Internet users.
Internet Society (ISOC) Zimbabwe’s Jasper Mangwana spoke about community networks as a way to promote access to the Internet, especially in rural communities. Zimbabwe currently has one community network in Murambinda.
There is a need for the telecommunications regulator to sort out the policy framework that will promote the establishment of more community networks to ensure the provision of Internet services to rural communities at affordable prices.
Emilia Paulus from Namibia Media Trust highlighted how their YouthQuake initiative provides a platform for Namibian youths to learn more about Internet Governance and how it relates to day-to-day life.
In his remarks, Kenneth Thlaka, the convener of the Southern African Internet Governance Forum (SAIGF), said there is need for people to participate in their national and regional Internet Government forums for them to contribute on how the Internet is regulated at both national and regional level.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has an annual Internet Governance Forum, but participation is mainly by government representatives and service providers. More still needs to be done to involve ordinary members of the public in this national Forum.
Thlaka said the next Southern Africa Internet Governance Forum will be held in Namibia at a date to be advised in 2020.