Identifying ways to harmonize digital policies across Africa

Published on
September 12, 2022

On the occasion of the Africa Internet Governance Forum, which took place from 19th to 21st July 2022 in Malawi, the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network organized a session to launch the data collection process for the Internet & Jurisdiction in the African Union Regional Status Report on Cross-border Digital Policies.

The Internet & Jurisdiction in the African Union Regional Status Report on Cross-border Digital Policies will map and showcase legal and technical approaches to cross-border digital policies across Africa. The report is being prepared by a team at Research ICT Africa (RIA) and developed through knowledge dialogue workshops and surveys of African stakeholders.

Over 60 participants joined the hybrid event which identified factors influencing the harmonization of digital policies across Africa and brought forward recommendations on how to move from discussions to implementation in digital policymaking across the continent. 

Inclusive digital transformation is based on evidence

The session opened with remarks from Gospel Kazako, Minister of Information, Government of Malawi emphasizing the need for knowledge-sharing between African countries so that the pursuit of inclusive digital transformation is based on evidence. “African countries are always left behind because we do not come together and tackle challenges jointly” he said.

Digital policy proposals rely on the buy-in of parliamentarians

The inclusion of parliamentarians in ICT policy development and discussion was underscored as a critical factor in encouraging more cooperation and harmonized policy approaches across Africa. Ms. Neema K. Lugangira, Chair, African Parliamentary Network on Internet Governance underscored that over the years the discussions and development of digital policies and advocacy have been done by the ICT sector and tech world in exclusion of parliamentarians leading to challenges in endorsements of proposals that have not had the involvement or parliamentarians. “There is a huge gap of understanding that we must recognize and the African Parliamentary Network on Internet Governance hopes to bridge those gaps” she said.

The benefits and risks of data localization must be balanced and better understood

Panelists discussed data localization trends and the need for greater awareness of security and economic motivations. Lillian Nalwoga Strategic Partnerships, Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) encouraged participants to balance risk with the benefits of data flows. “Looking at the way that data enables e-commerce we are trading with global countries and the covid pandemic has shown that being global and encouraging sharing of data can do a lot for the national and digital economy” she said. The feasibility of managing data centers was also highlighted as a challenge requiring the skills, human factors, and expertise, to run the physical center, and reliable electricity to work.

Africa needs to map its unique path in leveraging the value of data

The value of data is starting to be recognized by not only governments in Africa, but citizens also need to be aware of the value of their data. Panelists shared examples of how Africans can leverage the data economy through innovation, underscoring inclusivity as an important starting place. “We do not want to repeat the same kind of exclusive economies as we do in the brick and mortar space. We need inclusive economies” said Onica Makwakwa, Head of Africa, Alliance for Affordable Internet. Ms. Makwakwa encouraged Africa to move beyond western prescribed models of development and map a uniquely African digital development path. “I have trouble about data is the new oil and new gold - what good did gold and oil do for Africa?” she said.

Coordinated approaches are needed to support implementation

Panelists raised the need for African countries to collaborate on digital issues and identified some of the key issues blocking progress such as lack of implementation. “Why is it that we have such good ideas about collaborating but we do not do it?” said Onica Makwakwa, Head of Africa, Alliance for Affordable Internet. “It will take more than just government, but also private sector investment and civil society to do what we do best, which is holding them accountable and demanding that we implement certain things” she said. 

This echoed views shared on the African free trade agreement, where participants drew on examples identifying not only policies but also private sector investment is needed to fully realize the benefits. “We are trying to develop our cross-border trade and African trade agreement and if we do not have the right policies and we don't put the right mechanisms and policies in place it will be difficult to transact within Africa” said Mary Uduma, Chair, African Internet Governance Forum.

When closing the session panelists shared their recommendations for improving the coordination of digital policies amongst African countries

Neema K. Lugangira, Chair, African Parliamentary Network on Internet Governance emphasized the need to address gaps in skilling and capacity building, especially among parliamentarians who are dealing with these complex issues from data governance and artificial intelligence. 

Lillian Nalwoga Strategic Partnerships, Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) called for greater awareness of who certain data policy approaches are benefitting and increased dialogue among stakeholders to uncover risks and benefits of issues such as data localization.

Onica Makwakwa, Head of Africa, Alliance for Affordable Internet encouraged participants who are developing and looking at data and cross-border data flow to consider how data exists in the broader ecosystem of connected people “If we look at our data we should think of it through an inclusive approach and advance in this way” she said.

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The Internet & Jurisdiction in the African Union Regional Status Report on Cross-border Digital Policies data collection survey was launched at the event and received over 120 contributions. Based on the knowledge and intelligence gathered from the survey and knowledge dialogue workshops, Research ICT Africa is preparing the report which will be released at the Internet Governance Forum in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in December 2022. In preparation for the report’s release, data is currently being analyzed through the online survey which is available in English, French and Portuguese. Readers are invited and encouraged to participate as your contributions can still be included.

The project is enabled with the support of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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