Africa: With 2.7 Billion People Still Offline, What Does Africa's Resilient Digital Future Look Like?

UN forum to seek solutions for creating an open, free, secure and inclusive Internet

For a staggering 2.7 billion people, many of them living in developing and least developed countries, meaningful connectivity remains elusive.

Decisions made at the 17th Internet Governance Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 28 November to 2 December will be a catalyst for advancing an open, free, secure and inclusive Internet and achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

"With the right policies in place, digital technology can give an unprecedented boost to sustainable development, particularly for the poorest countries. This calls for more connectivity; and less digital fragmentation. More bridges across digital divides; and fewer barriers. Greater autonomy for ordinary people; less abuse and disinformation," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

This Forum, which will be hybrid, is back in Africa for the first time in 11 years putting a spotlight on the region which is the least connected, with 60 per cent of the population offline due to a combination of lack of access, affordability and skills training. Africa's burgeoning youth population, however, holds the key to transforming the region's digital future. There is immense potential in empowering youth to thrive in a digital economy and leapfrogging technologies.

While COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation in some sectors like health and education, it also exacerbated various forms of digital inequality, running deep along social and economic lines.

Globally, more men use the Internet (at 62 per cent compared with 57 per cent of women). And in nearly all countries where data are available, rates of Internet use are higher for those with more education. Addressing these digital divides or "digital poverty" is at the top of the Forum's agenda.

The increase in Internet use has also paved the way for the proliferation of its dark side, with the rampant spread of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, the regular occurrence of data breaches, and an increase in cybercrimes.

Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition documented 182 Internet shutdowns in 34 countries in 2021, an increase from 159 shutdowns recorded in 29 countries in 2020, demonstrating the power governments have in controlling information in the digital space.

The theme of this Forum, "Resilient Internet for a Shared Sustainable and Common Future", calls for collective actions and a shared responsibility to connect all people and safeguard human rights; avoid Internet fragmentation; govern data and protect privacy; enable safety, security and accountability; and address advanced digital technologies.

With the right policies in place, digital technology can give an unprecedented boost to sustainable development, particularly for the poorest countries. This calls for more connectivity; and less digital fragmentation. More bridges across digital divides; and fewer barriers. Greater autonomy for ordinary people; less abuse and disinformation.

"The Internet is the platform that will accelerate progress towards the SDGs. Our collective task here in Addis Ababa is to unleash the power and potential of a resilient Internet for our shared sustainable and common future," said Li Junhua, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

The Forum programme was designed through a bottom-up approach by the IGF's Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) in consultation with hundreds of digital stakeholders.

The IGF Leadership Panel, newly appointed by the Secretary-General this year, will work alongside the Group to foreground the most urgent issues on the global digital agenda, bring prominence to IGF deliberations, and transmit the IGF's outcomes to key decision-making bodies.

In the course of the next five days in over 300 sessions, the Internet Governance Forum will be a key driver of multistakeholder dialogue, cooperation, and partnerships among governments, the private sector, the technical community, civil society, and international organizations for sharing best practices and experiences that will help shape national and global policies on the Internet.

The forum will address the development of a resilient, sustainable and inclusive digital infrastructure. In particular, it will tackle the use of advanced digital technologies, such as AI, and its consequent risks, ensuring that new innovations are developed and deployed in a human-centric manner.

The outcomes of the IGF, including from its High-level, Parliamentary and Youth tracks, will serve as a concrete framework for the Global Digital Compact that will be agreed on at the UN Summit of the Future in 2024.

With the world relying more on digital tools and platforms for connectivity and advancing sustainable development, the Global Digital Compact is needed if we are to create inclusive, safe and resilient societies.

More Information on the IGF 2022: website, schedule of events, list of speakers:

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