The word “internet” is not well understood in its full and wholesome context by a size-able number of Ugandans and perhaps the majority. Smart phone usage has grown tremendously and with it the gospel of this thing called the internet. I often think of a radio advert on data bundle subscription where one person is trying to explain how communication has become easier, and even cheaper by buying data bundles. An old lady at the end of the line replies, “dota?” meaning daughter, not comprehending this whole data thing. Of course with smart phones come the popularisation of social media and the applications that simplify internet use and access. It would seem that internet familiarisation has grown with these new gadgets.
However, that may in itself be one of the ways in which internet policy has been bracketed outside. There must be continued promotion of internet policy with as much vigour as the promotion of social media. Not in a competitive kind of way, but as a complementary action towards the promotion of policies that may otherwise be overshadowed by the narrowed down, end-user attitude of looking at the internet. We are faced with a size-able portion of people that struggle to differentiate between the internet and social media. And this is quite understandable, most often the introduction to the internet starts with social media and sometimes fails to expand outside of it and spread to other resources that the internet can provide and avail to those who can take advantage of it.
I recently sat on a panel to discuss the Role of ICTs in the African Regional Integration, at the African Youth Union Summit held from 7th to 8th November 2015 at Makerere University, Kampala. As we opened the discussion and spoke about matters of internet policy, technology and ICTs, a question came to the panel from the audience, ‘What is internet democracy?’ I was struck by the sheer impact of realizing that even though the world of internet policy is growing, so many of our youths have not yet fully appreciated the policies behind such technologies, especially the Internet. I realized that there is a need for further dialogue around internet policy, by making a deliberate choice to make them more inclusive and to target a new audience. Information dissemination is a progressive and gradual process that must keep growing and evolving.
How can we advance a cause in which so few of our people are aware of? The problem is that there’s an awareness gap. Think about the concept of democracy in a logical way, how can something we define as the rule of the people by the people for the people be promoted when “the people” are unaware of it? How can we have the stakeholder’s accountable when we do not know what they should be accountable for? If people do not know the power they have, they cannot wield it; much less take advantage of it. Internet democracy is the idea that the end users of the internet be able to contribute to policies and decisions regarding internet usage and access.
The awareness gap covers some of the educated group, who are not aware of the responsibilities and capabilities that their voices can have on the development of internet policies. For instance, awareness can help in holding stakeholders accountable in ensuring quality and standardized service delivery to the populace.
As the panel discussion continued there was an indication that perhaps the awareness gap is because there’s a section of internet users who largely view the internet as a consumer product and do not ask themselves how they can advance the provision of this service to be better suited for them and their lifestyle in terms of meeting life goals. For example, when there is a network communication breakdown, it does not occur as a first solution to ask for accountability and better service delivery and quality assurance from the provider.
Personally, it’s only since a year ago that I started questioning my internet usage and attitudes. This was after a friend commented that sometimes the only difference between successful people and the non successful ones is the access to information. So I set out on a crusade of gathering information to better myself; finding online courses and taking on opportunities advertised on the internet. But I soon got tired of consuming from a platform that I felt I could also contribute to and share my ideas and thoughts with a wider audience. It’s a process and I am still learning.
There must be a balance between technology use, in terms of consumerism and contribution. Understanding the power of ICTs doesn’t happen overnight. Momentum of these policies is gaining traction; it’s becoming resourceful for dialogue in these areas to continue growing.
This brings me to the question of women in this space. Women’s involvement must continue to be promoted so that as the policies are drafted and implemented the voice of women is etched in the evolution of implementation. It is a ripe age of opportunity for this particular cause. Think about it, usually we struggle to solve problems because we failed to adequately prepare for them from the beginning. How about we do something right from the beginning so that even if a problem arises later, we are able to solve it. Solutions are always easier to execute when problems are considered in foresight planning.
All in all, the power of social media cannot be denied. Hence, in advancing internet policies and democracy we must continue to look at using the channels that are already established to push for these causes. We must not forget to continue advancing internet policies to new audiences and looking for avenues to promote them.