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West African stakeholders embrace universality of Internet

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Stakeholders in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector in West Africa have agreed to embrace the universality of the Internet with the aim of deepening penetration and ensuring safety of the net across the region.
   
This was made known at the jointly organised knowledge sharing session between the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the African ICT Foundation on how to mainstream Internet universality and Rights, Openness, Access and Multi-stakeholder (ROAM) principles.
   
The session, which was held on the occasion of the West African Internet Governance Forum 2021, focused on how to encourage more countries to use ROAM-X indicators for improving national Internet development and digital policies in West Africa.
   

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The session was moderated by Dr. Kossi Amessinou, Regional Director, West Africa, African ICT Foundation, who underlined the main objective to engage an extended partnership with the Internet community of West Africa by mobilising them to participate in Dynamic Coalition and provide the necessary tools to conduct national assessments in all ECOWAS countries.
   
Amessinou said the work on Internet Universality seeks to identify and close digital divides, foster digital inclusion, protect rights including freedom of expression, access to information and privacy, as well as to contribute to strengthening resilience and development.

In her opening remarks, UNESCO’s Director for Partnerships and Operational Programme Monitoring in the Communications and Information Sector, Marielza Oliveira, stated: “Our work on Internet Universality seeks to identify and close digital divides, foster digital inclusion, protect rights including freedom of expression, access to information, privacy, and contribute to strengthening resilience and development.”
    
President of the African ICT Foundation, Tony Ojobo, commended the collaboration with UNESCO and highlighted the need to carry out periodic evaluations in African countries to ensure improvement of national Internet governance.
  
Ojobo said the ROAM principles and indicators go beyond the traditional rational of physical access, stressing that they contribute to comprehensively advancing digital inclusion, focusing on multiple dimensions of human rights, open Internet, quality of access and inclusive multi-stakeholder governance for building resilient West Africa and achieving SDGs.
   
Chair of UNESCO’ Information for All Programme, Dorothy Gordon, reaffirmed the need for strong advocacy from national and regional stakeholders to implement the national assessment of IUIs across the West-African countries.
   

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She further called for more engagement from civil society to represent vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as disabled people, women or the youth.
   
Professor Alain Kiyindou pointed out that the ROAM-X indicators assessment in countries like Benin and Niger offers tremendous opportunities to push forward the development of the Internet in West Africa. This framework empowers national stakeholders to gain a better understanding of their digital landscape and engage in the digital transformation and inclusion process.
   
Representing Development House, Kafui Aheto, introduced the initial findings of the ongoing national assessment of ROAM-X indicators in Ghana. He highlighted the importance of multi-stakeholderism in guiding the overall assessment process and building policy development in Ghana.
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