Late last year, I went to Ethiopia. I had a wonderful stay and learned about the Ethiopian food and coffee culture and made lovely friends. Ethiopia left me with memories for life. But I also knew, going there, that bloggers who had criticised the government had been thrown in jail.
The nine bloggers and journalists were members of Zone9, an organization that I imagine have similarities to the organization I started in Ghana with a friend, BloggingGhana. Read more about their case on the Advox site Global Voices set up for the campaign to #FreeZone9Bloggers. Despite only being in the country for a few days, the knowledge of that I was in a country where they jailed bloggers for criticising the government had an eerie and immediate impact on me.
The damage of jailing bloggers is twofold, the personal damage to those individuals and the much larger example it sets. On my first day in Ethiopia, my hotel told me they had Internet issues, and I did not push for a resolution. When Internet arrived on day 2, I thought hard about what I tweeted and instagrammed from Ethiopia. I posted only photos and no words about my stay there. I made sure to not mention to anyone I was a blogger as I did not know how much of bad connotations that might have. I felt fear in my gut. It is a sad thing, to limit your thoughts, your creativity, and your imagination. I was just a visitor for a few days. I can’t help but think what that fear would do to a country over time. Would people discuss political developments? Criticise people in power when service delivery is poor? Would people think creatively or would they, just like I did, censor themselves?
ACCESS TO INTERNET
A different aspect of #RaiseYourVoice is access to Internet that is limited in many places all over the world, both for political reasons, lack of (electricity and data) infrastructure, and/or simply the cost.
According to the UN broadband commission more than half of the world’s population is offline. Ethiopia a case in point with only 1,9% Internet penetration, compared to Ghana’s 20,1% and Africa average of 26,5%. For the world its over 40% (numbers from InternetWorldStats.com
). As a blogger in Africa, I am constantly reminded, that having access to the same tools as I have (broadband and laptop) is for the lucky few. Then last week, Google announced plans of laying fibre in Ghana and Uganda in Project Link
and Facebook launched a project beaming Internet to Africa by satellite
. Is that not great news? Rather, in my view it is quite worrying. In an era go knowledge, the important issue of access to Internet in Africa is taken over by multinationals with their own agenda and already strong grips on the Internet globally.
SHARING OF INFORMATION
Internet is a game changer as it has the ability to bring the people of the world closer. Sharing information, once created, is next to free. When I finish writing this blogpost, how many will read it? Maybe one person (Hi Dad!), but it might also be 100 or 1000 or even 10 000. The cost is the same to me to spread my views. On the other end of the sharing, this means a university student in Ghana potentially can have the same access to written knowledge as a student anywhere else! We can all be up to date with latest scientific findings. 10 years ago, this was science fiction!
WHAT WE CAN DO
There are no easy solutions, but governments all over the world should be persuaded (by us!) to step away from fear and have faith in the power of freedom, on and offline. Individually, we have to take inspiration from the Zone9-bloggers and speak up. However, we also need better access to the Internet for the masses. I think we should think about who owns this infrastructure. It will cost, but yield returns, because when we can think freely, communicate freely, share information freely, we can also create better solutions to our problems.
At BloggingGhana I often repeat: Every time you go online, don’t just consume. Produce too. Share your life and views with the world. Create more stories!
SOME TIPS FOR #RAISINGYOURVOICE:
- Post a photo on a social network showing something that maybe has no representation online, it could be a street, a practise, or a portrait and a brief interview with someone.
- Show someone who do not have access to Internet what it is all about. Use your or their phone, or go into an Internet cafe.
- Craft a Facebook-update to challenge oppressive views.
- Spread the word on Alliance for Affordable Internet and their data.
- Join Global Voices as a Volunteer Writer, Translator, or Partner.
- Write a blog post where you #RaiseYourVoice to fill the void when another blogger has been silenced by fear or lack of access.
This post is part of the Blog Action Day 2015, with the theme #RaiseYourVoice.
My earlier Blog Action Posts can be found here: 2008 on Poverty, 2009 on Climate Change, 2010 on Water, and 2012 on the Power of We.
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