BLOG ACTION DAY #BAD15: #RaiseYourVoice Against Online Injustices

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.badblueonwhite-participant

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.

FEAR
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 Poverty2009 on Climate Change, 2010 on Water, and 2012 on the Power of We

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Impact of the Internet in Ghana: Dalberg Report

Hurray! Yesterday, the Dalberg report (click here for PDF) was released to describe the impact of the Internet in some African countries, including Ghana. This is the type of report that a blogger needs when asked “…but really, can the Internet have an impact in Ghana?”

The report openly target policy makers in Ghana ( Kenya, Senegal and Nigeria) and focuses on “potential” and findings such as “more than 80% of SME owners expect that the Internet will help them grow their business, and 70% of those expect to hire new employees as a result.”(p.7) It also comprehensively compares the countries with a model that takes into consideration “core” (from infrastructure to business environment and school enrolment rates) and “conditions for usage” (from percentage of households with electricity to mobile and broadband subscriptions to  uploads of video!). Here we can see that over the past six years, Ghana significantly improved the “core”, but not the “conditions for usage”. They recommend government to play a role.

Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 12.31.01 PM

My understanding of this, but detailed data could tell if I am right, is that although we have the core or the basics in place, for some reason the conditions for usage and hence reach does not follow. It is still expensive to access Internet in Ghana and despite competition bordering on overcrowding, data is not becoming cheaper.

Here are 5 other findings from the report I thought were interesting and my corresponding comments:

1. Ghana Rocks Social Media

“[Ghana] shows comparatively high engagement in social media, content generation on Wikipedia and video sharing. These build atop its leading position in mobile broadband penetration on the continent, relieving barriers to higher bandwidth interaction. Despite this strong performance, our analysis suggests that Ghana now needs to focus its attention on improving the level of attractiveness of Internet services” (p.11)

We often complain about access, but comparatively (with other African developing countries), we are doing fine. Also, I am happy to read that content creation, as recently discussed at BlogCamp13 is relatively good. Although mobile broadband is fine, it is still expensive especially for data intensive operations such as uploading video.

2. The promise of social media for government and citizens

“Social media and social networking is proving to be a catalyst in driving Internet access and impact….Social networks can create stronger links between government, educators, service providers, businesses and citizens. Users are already engaging on topics including music, dating and sport, but these networks are also quickly expanding to include education, health information and governance, and will undoubtedly influence how users engage in more sophisticated Internet
use over time.” (p.3)

This point cannot be overstated and it is A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY for Ghana and other countries in Africa with traditionally not very cosy relations between citizen and state.

3. Wider Access Completely Changes the Game

“Internet penetration also opens up entirely new business models for both companies with technical expertise as well as entrepreneurs. In Nigeria, for example, it has created opportunities for software designers developing gaming applications and mobile traffic applications, such as Maliyo Games, Gidi Traffic and Road Peer. It has also created opportunities for traditional and new media companies via advertising revenues, bringing in over 5M Naira a month for bloggers such as BellaNaija and Linda Ikeja, discussion forums like Nairaland, and newspapers such as Vanguard. Vanguard’s print business was unprofitable on its own, but its online portal ranks as the twelfth most popular site in Nigeria, and generates enough advertising revenue to make the entire operation viable.” (p. 17)

In Nigeria, bloggers make a living on what they do. So far in Ghana, there are just a handful bloggers who can , Ameyaw Debrah is the one that springs to mind, and maybe a few others who consult alongside their websites. Still, there seems to be no profitable way of advertising online in Ghana (although I believe a MEST start-up Adsbrook is working on it) . Is it a volume issue? What if Internet reached not only the population it reaches today (18% or 4,1%), but twice as many households?

4. Access is key

What is this report about? I think this word count exercise will tell you in a blink! The word “access” was used 234 times, “mobile” 134 times, “growth” 112 times, “broadband” 42 times, “open data” 24 times, “blog” just 7 times, “political” only 3.

5.  What about Political Impact?

Following the exercise above…If to look broadly at “impact” there were some important political initiatives such as Enough is Enough Nigeria and GhanaDecides that were not mentioned. I suspect that is because these were not initiatives that made economic impact (not directly at least), but rather focused on governance. But as we all know, they are interlinked! A chapter on political impacts of Internet (and political potential) including transparency, accountability and governance would have added that which, according to the Dalberg report:

“available studies typically lack detailed analyses of the social and political value of the Internet, especially across Sub-Saharan Africa.”

That is, if you want to call a report “impacts of the Internet”, include all major impacts. Else, “economic impacts” might be a better title.

All in all, this is an amazing report that I will be referring to for a long time. I only wish details of the computation leading up to the table posted above would be shared, maybe on the companion website for the reportThanks to Google Africa for sponsoring (commisioning?) this useful report. 

Other places for Internet information concerning Ghana are: Afrinnovator’s Ghana Page, History of Internet in Ghana from GhanaWeb (not well written, but an interesting reminder) and another historic reminder from Colunmbia University (from 2005?) Internet World Stats (last figures from 2009), Internet Governance Forum Ghana and Research ICT Africa.

 

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My Blogger of the Week “Twitterview” Hosted by BloggingGhana

I have collated all Q&A’s in a blogpost here inspired by the first BloggingGhana Blogger of the Week, Mighty African.

The Twitter interview or “twitterview” took about 1 hour and a half and it was a lot of fun. Again, I am introduced to a new and interactive way of using the Internet that just blows your mind away – there can be meaningful discussion with people you have never met in real life.

Ok, so here you go, courtesy of Google Docs.

 

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Photos from Google Elections Digital Tools Workshop

Here are some pics from the ongoing Google Elections Digital Tools Workshop.

Ory Okollu

Justin Arenstein

The civil society organizations crowd

Google Team

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GhanaBlogging Progress

The group I co-founded with fellow Swedish-Ghanaian Blogger Maya’s Earth, GhanaBlogging, is in the habit of meeting monthly. Today at 3pm at Café dez Amis (former Afrikiko) it is time again.

Right now we have some interesting and positive developments and thinking about formalizing ourselves into something more than a group of friends, into some kind of organization. This is for two main reasons.

First, we are getting more and more invitations for collaborations from companies and other organizations (Google Ghana, Nokia, British High Commission etc.). This is wonderful, but it is becoming unclear who to contact and how to spread information properly. I am also proud to say we are a very critical group who feel strongly about being independent, so this is another issue when market forces knock on your door.

Second, we are growing like crazy! Before Christmas, more than 70 bloggers wanted to join us! At the last meeting we were more than 15 bloggers present! ( If you also want to join us, fill this GhanaBlogging form and we will get back to you!) This means we need to streamline the application process further – and just welcoming double the amount of members we have is a great task that requires organization.

Despite these changes the group is still very much a group of friends, meeting, discussing and laughing.

See you later!

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Stressful Sunday

Now the world is spinning too fast.

Grading, art project, did you see my email? contract, research, graduation,  lunches, Google conference, malaria. Twice. (hope its gone).

And tomorrow evening I am supposed to fly out of Ghana for a long vacation. Seven weeks. Lazy days. Newspapers and coffee. Dinner with long lost friends. Hugging my parents. Surfing on fast, fast broadband. Speaking Swedish. Being one in the crowd.

My plan is to keep posting here on my summer. Hope you are ready for vacation!

But before the lazy days – am I ready? What shoes should I wear? Do I have a gift for my sister? Did I read your email? Where’s my phone charger?

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