In partnership with Paradigm Initiative (PIN) Digital Shelter hosted the 8th edition of the digital rights and inclusion forum 2021 #DRIF21 in Mogadishu as part of this year’s multi-country festival across the continent. The event brought together 40 participants with more than 200 community members joining virtually in Somalia and beyond. Among the attendees included government officials, civil societies, academia, ICT sector, tech community as well as digital rights activists and media practitioners. the main theme of the forum was “building digitally inclusive society in Somalia” presenting ideas and recommendations for promoting digital inclusion while at the same raising public awareness on digital rights.
The forum was officially opened by the Minister of Communications and Technology H.E Ahmed Abdi Sheikh who congratulated the organizers and the host team.
“In the name of Allah the most gracious the most merciful, let me convey my greetings to Digital Shelter of Somalia and Paradigm Initiative of Nigeria and all other participants for organizing this landmark #DRIF21 Somalia session, for bringing together the ICT sector, tech community, academics and other learning institutions. Digital rights are human rights and it allows people to use, create content and publish information” the minister started his speech as he put emphasis on the two main topics of the forum and explaining Somalia’s current digital landscape.
“On behalf of the Ministry of Communications & Technology (MoCT) Federal Govt of Somalia It is my pleasure to officially open the 8th edition of Digital Rights and Inclusion forum Somalia Session hosted in Mogadishu.
I highly encourage the organizers, audiences and all other partners to double their efforts in advancing digital rights and digital inclusion in Somalia and beyond. I would like to thank once again DS and PIN for organizing and hosting this forum.
Thank you very much and the session is now open” he concluded his speech. (watch full speech here)
Hosting DRIF21 session in Somalia was remarkable achievement bringing diverse groups of the society together for the first time discussing emerging technologies and how the digital transformation in Somalia is sharping our lives as citizens and policy makers. The forum came at right time where discourses on creating more inclusive and accessible world is very essential in Somalia
Under the theme “Building digitally inclusive society in Somalia” the forum addressed three main issues:-
- Promoting digital rights and digital inclusion both at grass root and at national level with effective and progressive policies and regulations
- Building effective digital governance system in Somalia
- Making the internet open, safe and free for all
The first panelists were:-
- Mr Zakria Ismail: head of ICT and e-Governance Dept, Ministry Communications & Technology (MoCT)
- Eng Ahmed Siyad: Internet governance expert, Secretary General of Somali Network Operators Group
- Mr Ibrahim Isse: Director of Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) Ministry of Commerce and Industry
- Abdifatah Gandi, digital transformation consultant and researcher
The session was Moderated by Ms Sumaya Abdirashid, researcher and communication strategist
This panel discussion addressed key questions around the need for national policies promoting digital rights and inclusion in the country. Mr Zakaire Ismail stated that several milestones have been achieved over the past 6 years in Somalia in relation to digital landscape and governance system, the National Communications Authority (NCA) the regulatory body for communications and the entire ICT sector have been established. He added that the ministry has also started working on developing first national digital inclusion policy with specific focus on women, youth and other marginalized groups of the community by building and enhancing their digital skills.
“The ministry’s priority is to bridge the existing digital divide and inequalities by connecting the disconnected to the digital world through effective policy making process and working technically with the ICT sector” he said.
Adding his contribution he said “We are planning to start e-government ICT training programs directed at citizens which we believe it can create a positive impact in conjunction with increasing digital literacy. We also believe that, if implemented successfully, such training programs could also lessen the digital divide, enrich citizens’ potential, and promote more equitable usage of public services in Somalia”.
With regard to the digital governance (e-governance ) and public service delivery , Mr Zakaire highlighted that there is combination of limited resources, absence of technical skills, lack of political will and old school manual systems which are still in place is a huge barrier for many digital oriented policy makers. Therefore, a whole reform and institutional capacity building is needed to achieve effective digital transformation in Somalia.
“You have senior officials who wants to keep the old school system fearing this whole digital transformation and younger generation (digital natives) who feel very comfortable with the use of digital technology and internet. So there is clash of two different generations (old vs new) in this sense” he added.
Another point raised in this discussion was the significance of digitizing public service delivery which will allow people to learn basic digital skills to access these services. “With the growing smartphone penetration and internet connectivity especially among the young generation, I think it is time to focus on digitalization of public service delivery, this will enable more people to adopt with the digital technology, increase digital literacy, boost transparency and citizen trust.”
Other panelists emphasized the issue of access to internet adding that there is a need for expanding access to digital devices and internet services for the large part of the population who are still remain disconnected. It is worth noting that majority of the south central parts of the country is completely disconnected due to ban imposed by Al-Shabaab on use of digital devices and internet services.
Eng Ahmed Siad, chair of the Somali Network Operators Group (SomNOG) mentioned that the following recommendations are needed to build digitally inclusive community in the country.
- Improving connectivity and access to information for all: despite Somalia being rated as one of the cheapest country in terms of internet affordability in the continent large number of the population are not accessing due digital illiteracy and limited availability of connectivity particularly in rural areas.
- Institutional capacity building on digital inclusion programs: Academics, innovation hubs and other national ICT institutions should be equipped and skilled with digital inclusion programs and initiative so that they can expand these skills to the rest of the community.
- Implementing Information Society in Somalia: this information age with its new technological revolution has made digital literacy in all sectors of society important and urgent. universal access is more important than ever. As the internet becomes increasingly embedded in the lives of individuals, communities and commerce, it is more critical than ever before to ensure digital literacy for everyone.
- Investing opportunities for e-businesses and digital entrepreneurship initiatives: stakeholders including government and ICT sector should create an enabling digital ecosystem environment such as creating digital knowledge base and ICT markets, creation of digital business environments as well as easier access to finance startup programs.
Continuing his discussion, Mr Ahmed said that Somalia is already performing well in e-banking system which could be considered as one of the fastest growing sector in the continent, Most people are now using mobile-based money platforms with the increasing penetration of smartphones. he added that there is possibility of enhancing digital inclusion Somalia if multi-stakeholder partners work together connect the unconnected, invest infrastructure including electricity and internet services. If the focus shift toward these areas through strong coordination then digital literacy will likely increase and citizens will realize the potential of the Internet.
Coming from business perspective of digital inclusion Mr.Ibrahim Isse, director Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said that the government should create the enabling environment for inclusion by boosting e-commerce initiatives online entrepreneurship and facilitate mechanism that support innovation with an established budget. “ Promoting ICT sector and technology is one of the key priorities under the Economic Development Pillar in the National Development Plan (NDP) but there must be collaboration between public & private institutions to achieve effective digital ecosystem in the country” he emphasized.
Mr Abdifatah Gandi, digital transformation consultant and researcher added his thought on the discussion saying “To take advantage of the cheap internet blunders in our country we need to start digital skill building for entrepreneurship initiatives designed to teach learners basic digital skills that will allow them to pursue their business idea or grow their existing businesses if they have one.”
Promoting Digital Rights and Expanding online civic space in Somalia
The second panel discussed was very engaging and exciting with the following panelists on stage:-
- Ms Naima Dahir : Information system expert at the Department of Planning, Ministry of Communications & Technology,
- Alinor Abdi Osman: Prominent social media figure and communications manager with USAID supported Bar ama Baro initiative in Somalia.
- Idil Ibrahim: Peace practitioner and media freedom advocate
- Zahra Abdi Haji: Award winning digital storyteller, poet and activist, director of Somali Storytellers
Moderated by Mohamed Okash, researcher with Institute of Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (IITE Institute) in Somalia.
This session started with poem recited by the renowned award wining poet and digital storyteller Zahra Abdihagi titled “without fear” reflecting the deepening threats faced by female activists, journalists and bloggers in the digital space with particular focus on the internet in general and social media platforms. The poem was part of a campaign launched by Digital Shelter on 8th March 2021 to raise and promote digital safety for women in the online space. Zahra explained about the campaign “The campaign features an audiovisual poem in English and Somali and it was inspired bys a December 2020 crowdsourcing survey conducted by Digital Shelter on women’s experiences of online shaming, harassment, and abuse.” She sated
“The survey resulted in 82 respondents sharing stories ranging from having accounts hacked, blackmail, through to receiving unsolicited indecent images from men.
Zahra was asked about how can the campaign help Somali women, responding tot his question she said “The #WithoutFear campaign also features a digital safety and security platform which enables Somali women to download and receive regular reminders about the status of their online and social media accounts via a calendar.”
During the session panelists stated that the digital space is no longer safe for many and it is fueled with hate speech, targeted online harassment and cyber bullying. “We are seeing an increased ethnic and clan based hate speech spreading across social media particularly facebook with people sharing toxic posts recklessly” this is in addition to the sponsored trolls and propagandist exciting coordinating online attacks against dissent and critical violence in online platforms.
“The fact that social media platforms is not actively enforcing their community standard regulations in Somalia is making it even more dangerous for many of us to use these sites” says Idil Ibrahim.
According to the panelists internet has become an essential platform for many activists to disseminate information, mobilize, build movements, fight for a cause and advance human rights at local and global level. “it is a space where human right defenders. Bloggers and dissidents supporting their communities increase their visibility and amplify their voices but one which comes with greater risk and brutal violence.” Said Alinor Abdi who is very influential social media campaigner “but there must be progressive regulation and content moderation, we need to balance freedom of expression while at the same time limiting abusive attacks in the platform” he added. “These regulations must conform with the constitution and the international standards on freedom of expression and human rights in general”
“In the era of digitalization, we need progressive laws to be adapted to protect and safeguard our fundamental rights including digital rights; data privacy and data protection as well as freedom of expression” added Zahra.
The event had received huge attention in Somalia and beyond with high impression and on Twitter where the hashtag #DRIF21 was trending in Somalia. the reaction was also positive with several government institutions such as Ministry of Communications and Technology, Somali National TV (the official state broadcasting agency) and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry sharing tweets.
The forum ended with a call for open inclusive and safe digital space where Somali citizens can enjoy the benefits of internet and technological revolutions to positively change their lives.
Following 10 recommendations have been presented at the end of the forum:-
- Federal government to prioritize strengthening ICT sector and digital transformation with effective policies regulations and strategies supporting digital rights and inclusion.
- Improving internet connectivity and access for all campaign in the country spearheaded by private and public stakeholders.
- ICT community and private sector to invest more on digital inclusion skill building programs so that no one is left behind in the digital transformation.
- Institutional capacity building on digital rights and inclusion strategies so that they can apply these knowledge as they continue reaching more people in their programs across the country.
- Make digital literacy as social right through implementing effective digital inclusion policies and programs. Digital literacy should be fundamental in all federal and state-level national development plans.
- Promoting innovation and incubation hubs for digital entrepreneurship initiatives and startup programs for youth to encourage digital inclusion among young generation.
- For digital space to be safe and inclusive, social media platforms should apply their community standards (translated into Somali language) in their platforms to control hate speech and toxic comments.
- Progressive laws and regulations should be put in place to counter online abuses, cyberbullying and gendered attacks but these laws must be in line with the constitution and should not limit freedom of expression and opinion.
- Civil society, media outlets and digital rights activists to continue campaign for open and safe online civic space where citizens can engage, voice their opinions, concerns and most importantly hold their representatives accountable.
- Promote open data governance system where datasets is available and accessible to general public. this will encourage public institutions to be more transparent and accountable to citizens. Also by encouraging the use, reuse and free distribution of datasets means that the government is promoting business creation and innovative, citizen-centric services.
This article was co-written by Abdifatah Hassan Ali and Ayaan, co-founders of Digital Shelter, he can be followed on Twitter: @IamAbdi5