26th August 2016 saw the 10th Uganda Internet Governance Forum (UIGF) take place at the Golf course Hotel in Kampala. The UIGF is held annually and this year it was organized by the Internet Society – Uganda Chapter (ISOC – ug) in collaboration with CIPESA under the theme “Internet as a tool for peace and development in Uganda.” 2016 has seen some interesting events happening around internet access and freedom in Uganda. Perhaps the most talked about event was the presidential election which was marred with incidences of internet shutdowns apparently for purposes of National security. With such occurrences happening in Uganda and other parts of the world, there is much need to ponder on whether the internet can be used as a tool for peace and development, rather than seen as a threat to stability.
In 2003 and 2005, the UN organized the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). One of the most important outcomes from a series of conferences held by the Summit was the creation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Each year there are global, regional, and national IGFs that happen around the world. Like the recently held 10th IGF in Uganda, each IGF offers a space for stakeholders to share knowledge and agree on solutions to key internet-related issues. IGFs are purposely designed not to be decision-making forums but rather spaces that allow for participants to engage in dialogue. The outcome of every IGF plays an essential role in informing decisions that are taken by governments in some instances and institutions that manage the internet[i].
The approach taken in the 10th IGF like many others around the world is a bottom-up approach. This allows for transparency and inclusion. It also allows for a common ground where stakeholders can develop solutions to fit the different facets of development within their environments. The aim is for such decisions to eventually have a great global impact.
Currently, Uganda is facing a sudden surge of technological innovations and the use of online applications, the majority of which require the use of the internet. Besides the ICT sector, other sectors are quickly and steadily mainstreaming the use of the internet and ICTs in their daily work.
From a gender and ICT advocacy perspective, what does ICT for peace and development mean? It means that with equal access to the internet specifically for women who are less likely to access and use the internet, due to poverty among many reasons, there will be more opportunities to research and invest in developmental projects. It also means that they will be able to engage in spaces that create dialogues that can influence policy processes with the intention of effecting change. In this case, it is safe to say that the internet can be a tool for change in terms of addressing service delivery issues. Internet spaces such as social media can also be a virtual round table where government, CSOs, and development practitioners can have healthy dialogues on a range of issues that may ultimately decide on the general stability of a country.
As to whether the internet can truly be a tool for peace and development in Uganda, the only sure way to tell is if it is leveraged towards development. This can be done by using available platforms on the internet as virtual round tables to have constructive dialogues on development issues. These discussions may also revolve around policy and law formulation, implementation, and reforms to address developmental issues including national security. It is therefore important that stakeholders understand and exploit the potential in using the internet as a tool for peace and development and then perhaps it will have the desired effect.
Compiled by H. Susan Atim, Program Assistant – Information Sharing and Networking