Africa: Re - Publica Digital Conference Premieres in Africa

14 December 2018

One of Europe's most important events on digitalization has moved to Africa this year. Digital activists, politicians, entrepreneurs and scientists are meeting in Accra, Ghana.

"The future of digital innovation is most definitely not limited to Europe," says Geraldine de Bastion, head of programs at the re:publica. "The internet is a global phenomenon, start-up economies are a global phenomenon, and there are so many exciting developments happening here," she adds, explaining why the 2018 re:publica is being held in the Ghanaian capital Accra.

Discussions will take place on internet politics and digital rights issues as well as economic and cultural developments resulting from new technologies. There will be opportunities for networking and time to party.

De Bastion emphasizes the significance of the event: "Re:publica is not just any other conference, it is really a festival experience. We have so many topics and a variety of themes that we really want to look at as an overall picture of the digital society and the digital future."

Using the digital space

Ghana in particular and Africa as a whole are building up a large base of young people in the digital space. While some have become digital entrepreneurs, others are using the space to push for social change in their countries.

Key speakers for the event include Mozilla's boss, Mark Surman, a digital activist from Togo, Farida Nabourema, and one of Africa's leading voices on women taking a key position in the tech sector, Ivy Barley.

"I feel that it is such a great opportunity for us to showcase the great work we are doing in Ghana in terms of the tech eco-system," Barley told Deutsche Welle. "We are actually very vibrant and we are coming up with very important innovations."

Fighting fake news

One topic that worries digital activists like Ivy Barley is the emerging threat of fake news and the power it gives governments to crackdown on digital rights.

"We can't eradicate fake news. That is impossible," Barley said. "But we need to have some kind of standards in place to reduce the number of fake news out there."

The increasing amount of fake news is a real threat to digital rights in Africa. Governments become nervous and pass laws intended to censor internet usage.

Ghanaian politician Nii Adjei Sowah says there can be no justification for lawmakers to suppress free access to the internet despite the surge in political radicalization.

"I believe in democracy, I believe in the pluralism of the media and if you shut it down, people will find a way of communicating one way or the other," Sowah said. "So the best thing to do is to allow people to speak freely."

At the re:publica expectations are high among young people that the internet can help find solutions to emerging challenges.

Read more:African authoritarian regimes' dread of social media

Will Senyo, head of the tech business Impact Hub, is confident that these expectations will be met: "One big leftover is global exposure, the idea that in the corners of Accra, West Africa, there is a movement of the same level and excitement like anywhere else in the world," he said. "From there we build bridges with other tech communities across Africa, Europe and the Americas."

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