ICT Ministers in Africa pledge support to implementation of Windhoek+30 Declaration

Participants from 13 African countries, including ICT ministers from Angola, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa, came together to discuss information as a public good as key to the future of the continent.

They also heard an appeal from Namibia’s Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Peya Mushelenga, to support an endorsement of the principles of the Windhoek+30 Declaration on information as a public good at the upcoming UNESCO General Conference (see link to the draft resolution tabled by the Namibian Delegation at UNESCO).

The event, titled the African ICT Ministers Forum, took place on 4 November 2021, and was organized by the government of Namibia in cooperation with UNESCO.

Opening the dialogue, Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, highlighted the centrality of ICTs to public knowledge and information as well as their role in facilitating  conversations about matters that affect the lives of the people in a democracy. 

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Tawfik Jelassi, built on this theme, noting that “the Windhoek+30 Declaration highlights the importance of access to information in upholding the vision of information as a public good.”

The Windhoek+30 Declaration takes forward the spirit of the original 1991 Windhoek Declaration, which made an influential call for a norm of press freedom, pluralism and independence. The new and updated Declaration signals further issues for attention such as a risk of media extinction due to current threats to media’s economic viability. It also calls for mainstreaming Media and Information Literacy in society in the context of  ”increasing proliferation, amplification and promotion of […] disinformation and hate speech.” Further, it urges steps to ensure the transparency of Internet companies.

Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies of South Africa, Khumbudzo Phophi Silence Ntshavheni spoke on the topic of regulating Artificial Intelligence (AI), while encouraging innovation. She emphasised that “the adoption of AI must ensure the ethical, impactful and purposeful delivery”, while encouraging “all the African countries to work in unison and effectively adopt the recommendations of the AI for Good principles to ensure trusted, safe and inclusive development of AI technologies and equitable access.” 

Another speaker, Ms Mapolao Mokoena, Director for ICT of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), illustrated the relevance of the Windhoek+30 Declaration in terms of coping with digital divide, and the importance of having action plans and targets to monitor its implementation.

Discussions also underlined the need to develop an African response to AI and Digital Transformation with common priorities related to AI and data governance.  In addition, speakers noted that policy frameworks for AI should build upon existing networks and professional groupings, as well as regional communities, to build on multistakeholder approaches for regional policies. The Artificial Intelligence Needs Assessment Survey in Africa provides for important insight in establishing priorities and capacity building needs of African countries concerning AI.

Minister Mushelenga Minister of Information and Communication Technology – Namibia, described the journey of Namibia in working towards the adoption of an Access to Information Law.  He highlighted the importance of enshrining the right to information in statutory guarantees for public access to information. 

Civil society representatives from ACTION Coalition and African Platform on Access to Information stressed the importance of a multistakeholder approach in adopting access to information guarantees, as highlighted in the Windhoek +30 Declaration.  The importance of finding the balance between rights – including the right to privacy – and a conducive environment to innovation and use of technologies was also at the centre of discussions.

The Declaration’s right-based approach, to ensure interconnected rights such as to freedom of expression, rights to education and to health, was the focus of the intervention by Tabani Moyo, Regional Director of the MISA NGO. Grace Githaga from KIKTANET provided a concrete example of implementation of UNESCO’s ROAM-X indicators in Kenya; while Internet freedom expert Andrew Puddephat stressed that the Windhoek+30 Declaration can be a tool to advance discussion on transparency and accountability of technological companies.