This week, Digital Shelter joined Africa’s biggest internet forum #FIFAfrica19 held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where more than 300 digital rights activists, journalists, media actors, human right defenders and tech savvy have attended. The landmark forum brought together key actors from Africa and beyond to exchange ideas, share information and push the conversations on digital rights forward as well as advancing internet freedom.
The forum was organized by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in collaboration with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MinT). This year, the forum touched range of pressing issues in the continent including digital rights, internet shutdowns, advancing privacy, free expression, non-discrimination and the free flow of information online, among other interesting topics. The fact that Ethiopia hosted the forum was remarkable achievement knowing where Ethiopia came from in terms of internet freedom and other records on traditional human rights violations .
Digital Shelter was represented by its founder and director Abdifatah Hassan Ali who joined various sideline sessions on digital security, digital rights and inclusion as well as online harassments and hate speech on Social Media which was very crucial topic as it affects our online community.
DS at the Heart of the Discussion
During the event, Mr Abdifatah also joined panel discussion on “Trends in Internet Freedom between 1999 to 2019”sharing updates on the state of internet in Somalia since 1991 when Somalia first had its internet connection. He mentioned that internet played critical role by connecting millions of Somalis who are scattered outside Somalia with their loved ones at home. “We have large diaspora community outside the country and the only way for them to stay in touch with their loved ones at home is through internet connectivity” he said.
In addition to enabling connection between millions of Somalis, internet has also facilitated remittance and money transfer systems which has been lifeline during Somalia’s civil war. “Remittance companies which are the main contributors of Somalia’s economic development heavily depend on internet connection. It is the only way diaspora communities could send money back to home after banking institutions collapsed” he added speaking at the event.
State of the Internet in Somalia
Despite the conflict and other difficult humanitarian crisis, Somalia was not affected by significant internet shutdowns. However, in July 2017, there was internet outage for 23 days in southern parts of the country which was caused by damage to an undersea fiber-optic cable. The outage costed the country more than $130 million showing how internet connection has become lifeline in the country.
In 2013,the 3G mobile phone services in southern Somalia were cut off under orders of Al-Shabaab even though the service was restored just earlier this year. However, large number of the population particularly those living under areas controlled by Al-Shabaab are completely disconnected from the internet as Al-Shabaab banned internet and the use of smart phones.
Those who wish to contact with their loved ones or students who are studying have to travel to big cities like Mogadishu to stay connected. Even in the capital city Mogadishu, internet coverage is patchy, expensive and unpredictable thus not everyone can easily access it.
In May this year, the federal government warned it will shut down social media for one week after national paper exams were leaked and allegedly shared on social media according to the Ministry of Education. The decision however, was not implemented but it created concerns among the public who depend on social media as primary of information.
Joining the forum for internet freedom in Africa was an eye-opening for us and it gave us the opportunity to learn how to localize global and regional discussions around digital rights and internet freedom. DS is planning to organize series of events to cascade these issues with our communities and hope to share the publications to keep the public informed about these trending issues.