This week, our Africa Regional Coordinator Nnenna Nwakanma, will be at the Stockholm Internet Days, and she’ll deliver a keynote address at 9AM Swedish time on Tuesday 24 November. This is an interview she gave ahead of the event originally published on the Internet Days website.
Q: You are a co-founder of FOSSFA, The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa. Can you tell us about the purpose of this organisation?
If I have to summarise the purpose of FOSSFA in one word, it will be African Development. When we met in Addis Ababa, in 2002 to reflect under the Africa Information Society Initiative, we were driven by one motive, using the potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to leapfrog Africa’s development. The work of FOSSSFA may be seen in capacity building, innovation, business, policy and even education. Now that we are moving from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is even more work to do.
Q: You are a champion of rights for freedom of online expression and communication, not least in your native country. How would you describe the state of online freedom on the African continent today?
This is a difficult one. Why? Because Africa is not a country. There are 54 countries with more than one billion people and more than 2000 living languages spoken. So it is a real challenge to put all of that in one sentence. However, we can give a broad classification of three tendencies: progressive countries, intermediate countries and countries on alert. Progressive countries have seen an improvement in access, rights and citizen participation over the past five years. Intermediate countries seem stuck with the same difficulties. Countries on alert are places where online freedom is deteriorating. While conditions in Mauritius, Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria and Cape Verde are improving, Cameroon, Togo, Angola and Namibia are still scoping. The countries in danger still remain Gambia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ethiopia and Burundi. Over all, with the “Internet of fear” and excuses of terrorism, things are not looking good at all.
Q: You are also working with an initiative called the Alliance for Affordable Internet. In your eyes, what are the biggest obstacles when it comes to providing Internet access to people who is not yet online?
The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) is the world’s broadest technology sector coalition with more than 70 members. We want everyone, everywhere, to be able to access the life-changing power of the affordable Internet. Barriers are many and are even on the rise. Maybe it is better for me to share with you the 5 main axes of our strategy to overcome these challenges:
- Effective broadband strategies: Clear and comprehensive national broadband plans, which allow for increased private investment, remove barriers to infrastructure deployment, and encourage public-private partnerships.
- Enhanced competition: A level playing field that encourages innovation and gives consumers a range of choices as to their service provider; a unified licencing framework is of particular value here.
- Efficient spectrum allocation: Spectrum allocated in a fair and competitive way, with innovative spectrum tools considered.
- Infrastructure sharing models: Laws and partnerships designed to embed open access methods and reduce sunk infrastructure costs.
- Universal access to affordable Internet services: Development of shared services, available at community centres, schools, libraries and other anchor institutions – especially important in rural areas.
To these, we need to add our work in taxation, education, consumer advocacy and overall stakeholder and member capacity building.
Q: What do you plan to talk about during your keynote session in Stockholm?
Hmm. This is a tricky one. I am really not a particularly good speaker. The truth is that I incubate thoughts in my head for many weeks. I leave them to mature, to churn. Similar to how milk is turned to cheese. So it is not very clear now. What I can say is that I will definitely share personal perspectives and stories, speak to the women, speak to the men, and speak to the minds. Granted, our theme will be the Internet and its potential and continued contribution in our lives.
Q: You visited Stockholm Internet Forum last year. What are your thoughts about coming back to Sweden?
I have actually been to this beautiful city several times. For me, Stockholm is saved in my brain’s hard disk, in a folder named “Royal”. The splendour of the City Hall, the Palaces, few cities in the world can rival those. And the waterways, I miss those too. But I also love the food, especially when it is eaten from high-on-the-top restaurants that offer awesome views of the city!