NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 6 – Kenya is hosting the second annual Freedom Online Conference which will focus on building stronger support for Internet freedom, while articulating the importance of Internet freedom for development and governance.
The two-day conference brings together over 400 stakeholders from the global ICT industry to discuss issues affecting freedom of Internet users in Kenya and US Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Michael Posner said the meeting aims to get more Kenyans to leverage the economic and social benefit of the Internet without inhibitions.
“We are ensuring that the evolving information and communication technologies remain the foundation of an open global platform for exchange where people can exercise their rights and not a tool used to spy on or silence citizens,” he said.
Netherlands Ambassador for Human Rights Lionel Veer cautioned that countries must be aware that technology can be a double edged sword, in the sense that some governments abuse technology to censor and monitor their citizens.
“That is why the Coalition also focuses attention on the importance of working safely online,” he explained. The Coalition comprises 17 countries which subscribe to the ideology of keeping the internet open and free.
One of the main goals for this year’s event will be to debate how countries in the world can develop relevant legal frameworks and policies including standards of freedom of expression online. Information PS Bitange Ndemo emphasised that the government is working hard to make sure that online hate speech is mitigated ahead of the upcoming elections.
“If you recall in 2008 we had problems because a lot of hate messages came out of blogs and we were not able to trace who generated those blogs,” he acknowledged.
“So what we’re doing is not blocking anybody in the use of Internet, but if you see what Kenyan ISP’s do, they have a common IP address. So what we’re trying to do is making sure that every gadget has its own IP address,” he explained.
The Ministry of Information and Communications says plans are also underway to hire experts to monitor various posts on social sites.
“This is a move that is aimed at cultivating responsible use of social media and Internet in general,” Ndemo said.
“We will not limit freedom of expression in the media but misuse of the freedom will not be tolerated. That is not curtailing freedom of expression; we want to enhance online freedom through responsible participation,” he added.
The event has been organised by the Ministry of Information and Communications in partnership with the government of Netherlands and it presents Kenya with the opportunity to offer leadership in Africa on related policy debates.
Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio said discussions in the forum will guide the formulation of the country’s internet policies.
“We are proud to be the first African country to host this conference which confirms the country’s leading role in adoption of ICTs in the region,” he said.
“More and more Kenyans are adopting the use of internet both as a social and business communication tool,” he added.
Ndemo added that the forum will provide stakeholders with a perfect opportunity to discuss how Kenyans can start using internet to drive entrepreneurship.
“Kenyans mostly use the internet for social communications without realizing the entrepreneurial value of the resource,” he noted.
“Such a forum will help open the eyes of local youths to the business opportunities that can be exploited through the internet,” he added.
The discussions and debate from the roundtable will be formulated into policy recommendations for Government action regarding Internet freedom in Kenya.
Representatives will be selected at the roundtable to present these recommendations to Government leaders at a plenary session of the Internet Freedom Conference.
According to the latest figures from the Communications Commission of Kenya, Kenya’s Internet adoption is top in Africa with over 17 Million Kenyans (36 percent of the population) accessing the Internet.
Approximately six million Kenyans access the Internet via mobile devices and some of the social benefits include mobile money transfer which has transformed lives of Kenyans immensely.
The country also boasts four undersea cables holding more than 2.8 terabytes of bandwidth available to Kenyans, a national Fibre Optic connection to all its neighbouring countries and over 5,261,919 Mbps international connectivity.
“Kenya is a leader in ICT development in the region and across Africa. Embracing an open and free internet has been a key condition in developing our ICT sector,” Ndemo said.
“It is also an important basis for realizing the ambitions of Kenya in terms of ICT leadership in the context of the Kenya Vision 2030,” he added.
This is the first time that the Freedom Online Conference has been held in Africa and Kenya and Ghana are the only two African countries who are part of the 17 member Freedom Online coalition, which draws its membership from countries that subscribe to the ideology that keeping the internet open and free is a worldwide endeavour.
Last years inaugural Hague Conference led to a declaration titled “Freedom Online: Joint Action for Free Expression on the Internet”, where the 17 Coalition members dedicated themselves to collaborate and cooperate to support and promote internet freedom and to engage ICT businesses on “their responsibility to respect rights and fundamental freedoms online”.