The Power of Digital Inclusion

Marion Apio April 21, 2021

Digital inclusion however refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This implies that an organization or individual is intentionally going to create platforms, forums and engage individuals and communities in obtaining digital knowledge.

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“A significant proportion of the population is digitally excluded due to internet inaccessibility and/or with low levels of digital literacy” - Economic and Social Research Council. Got me thinking; if a great deal of the population is digitally excluded and illiterate, how about me with the privilege of a smartphone, a computer, access to the internet and having acquired digital knowledge?

Privilege, because according to the 2019 research on ICT in Uganda, about 86% of the population in Uganda have no internet access and have no Internet-enabled devices, such as computers and smartphones. About 36% of non-Internet users are digitally illiterate and unknowledgeable. In Africa and globally, accessibility to tech and the internet especially by marginalised groups like women and people with disabilities is limited and most of these individuals do not enjoy their digital rights.

Wrapping my head around digital Inclusion, I realized that I should use my privilege as a human rights defender, to support and champion digital inclusion even within my growing community of young journalists.

What is Digital Inclusion?

I should credit Daniel Odongo for highlighting that we need thought-leaders in the Digital and Human Rights spaces to strengthen human rights in the digital era.

The World Economic Forum defines digital rights as basically human rights in the internet era and these are closely linked to freedom of expression and privacy.These rights allow you to access and use computers, other electronic devices and communication networks.

Digital inclusion however refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This implies that an organization or individual is intentionally going to create platforms, forums and engage individuals and communities in obtaining digital knowledge.

When it comes to intent, I would profoundly say The DRIF (Digital Human Rights and Inclusion Forum) is one intentional platform ensuring digital inclusion and strengthening human rights in a digital age and new normal; the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is The Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF)?

The DRIF was launched as a platform that brings together various human rights actors from within and outside the Digital Human Rights Lab community on 14th, April, 2021. The group of digital experts, enthusiasts and gurus convened physically at Bugolobi Kampala while over 1000 human rights defenders joined virtually.

The intent was explained by Ayazika Phillip, to provide hands-on approaches on how to strengthen the effectiveness of human rights through the use of digital innovation competencies and instruments. It was a chance to explore existing opportunities and collaborations within and beyond the Digital Human Rights Lab.

Allow me focus on this session that saw the presence and participation of various human rights defenders including;

  • Solomon Sserwanjja investigative Journalist and Founder African Institute for Investigative Journalists,
  • Charity Mugasha engagement lead at DHRLab,
  • Herbert Ayesiga Elvis CoP Lead for Digital Inclusion and
  • Lindsey Kukunda founder of Her Empire.

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This panel discussion rolled out a lot of insights that caught my attention and couldn’t go unnoticed.

Centering on empowering communities with knowledge and skills on digital tools and tech. “It is time we be intentional about inclusivity in everything we do. And digital experts need to stop thinking for the users of digital platforms, and design with them,” Elvis.

Lindsey noted that there is a need for action groups to get working. Imagine the ability to share resources, expertise and knowledge within the various human rights organizations. “Human Rights defenders need to learn that alone there is less they can do, but there is so much we can accomplish together” - Lindsey.

Digital platforms have provided a solution by accelerating open source investigations, allowing for accountability to human rights issues that have otherwise been neglected. “Journalists as human rights defenders need to curate information and generate data that can facilitate human rights and hold violators and perpetrators accountable,”- Solomon Sserwanjja.

It is at this moment that I ask we reminisce about the outbreak of the pandemic that led to the “infodemic” amidst atrocities and human rights violations by various actors including governments, the media, and individuals.

Charity Mugasha voiced the human-centered approach in strengthening human rights in the digital age. “Data is human. Tech is an extension of who we are as humans and we cannot have data or tech without humans.” She also pointed at the fact that everyone needs to be a champion of human rights if we are to amplify this cause.

The DHRLab aftered a Tool Kits Launch where DHRLab engagement leads unveiled the various tool kits, instruments and resources for Human Rights Defenders. Some of these very interesting resources included;

  • Grant writing toolkit by Daniel Odongo
  • Digital Advocacy toolkit by Phillip Ayazika
  • Digital Security toolkit by Andrew Gole and
  • Design thinking toolkit by Charity Mugasha

I strongly believe that to strengthen digital inclusion, we should recognize the downsize that comes about with digital platforms especially marginalized groups like, persons with disabilities and women. Many leaders in Uganda and across the continent need to understand that whereas digital platforms are an opportunity, they could have a negative impact on the livelihoods of many. Perhaps it is time for all actors to foster digital inclusion and actually set the pace for conversations around inclusivity for all.