The #speakup barometer assessed the drivers and barriers for digital participation divided into five clusters: Access, Digital Rights, Media and Journalism, Innovation and Society.
People need more than access to fully take advantage of the opportunities provided by the web. Discussions on digital inclusion in Africa often highlight the lack of Internet access as the main barrier to participation. But access alone is not the answer. Here are the results of our research:
Country results for Ukraine
With a vibrant IT sector and some of the cheapest Internet access in the world, Ukraine offers a solid foundation for digital participation. The country’s active civil society has started many initiatives fostering participation online. At the same time, it has been successful in preventing legislation that would have jeopardized digital rights. However, while there are impressive exceptions to the rule, Ukrainian media outlets are often too weak financially to collaborate with the country’s IT sector for the sake of their own innovation. Moreover, public debate in Ukraine’s highly politicized society remains vulnerable in light of Russia’s informational warfare against the country.
Country results for Kenya
Digitalization has shaken up the Kenyan public sphere, galvanizing both the very best of digital technology. Kenya is one of the most wired nations in Africa. Home to inventions such as the mobile money service, M-Pesa, it has a well-established innovation scene. Social media has proven to be a powerful engagement tool for Kenyans to debate political and social issues. But it’s also shown its vulnerability as a tool for spreading fake news and propaganda. Kenyan civil society needs to be vigilant in protecting existing freedoms. Whether it's punitive laws or unlawful arrests, digital rights and freedom of expression are increasingly under attack.
Country results for Colombia
Colombia has made considerable progress towards becoming a digital society. The government is actively promoting start-ups and the expansion of broadband. As the peace agreement continues to be implemented, there is an opportunity for online participation to increase. However, it is not clear how quickly the digital divide – especially between larger cities and rural areas – can be completely overcome. This gap is visible not only in terms of access to the Internet, but also in terms of the presence of innovative digital media. Digital participation is limited by the deep-rooted violence apparent in the country, which is reflected in online behavior and a relatively powerful state surveillance apparatus.
Country results for Lebanon
Lebanon’s entrepreneurial landscape is slowly beginning to blossom. Lebanon is home to the second biggest start-up scene in the region, despite the fact that access to the Internet remains costly and Internet speed is still slow due to a lack of fibre connections. Social media has proven to be a powerful engagement tool for Lebanese people to debate political and social issues and to pressure the government. More and more media companies are betting on the expansion of digital media but the government’s strategy remains unclear. A lack of legislation to protect freedom of expression online and a spike in related arrests means digital rights are suffering. But a new law for freedom of expression online might soon be on the way.
Country results for Ghana
Ghana is on its way to becoming a society which is able to harness the opportunities of digitalization; opportunities that also open up more options for digital participation. The country has some of the right conditions to realize this ambition, and Ghana’s young population is emerging as the driving force of digitalization. An innovation scene is starting to flourish, and both traditional media houses and media start-ups and bloggers are beginning to form a new digital media landscape. Access and cost are the main reasons why many people are still unable to participate and have their own voice on the Internet. Efforts are also needed to protect freedom of expression in Ghana.
Country results for Myanmar
After decades of dictatorship, isolation and information drought, Myanmar has jumped headfirst into the digital era. Plunging prices for SIM cards and cheap smartphones have made mobile Internet access possible for most. But the years in the digital desert mean that media and digital literacy rates remain low. Hate speech and disinformation have run rampant on Facebook and contributed to violence against ethnic communities – particularly Muslims. Laws on defamation and a government sensitive to criticism have resulted in prosecutions for online speech. A small, but active innovation scene is growing, but must confront funding problems and decision-makers who prefer traditional approaches.
Country results for Pakistan
Despite Pakistan’s vibrant television industry and culture of political debate, digital participation is significantly limited by poor infrastructure. Internet penetration is very low, and a lack of e-commerce infrastructure means there are few business models for sustainable innovation in civic engagement and digital journalism. Before society was able to fully make use of the limited opportunities for free expression online, the government moved to regulate social media with vague laws that are open to misuse against dissenting voices. This has created a toxic online environment for many people, in particular women and minorities.
Country results for Uganda
Uganda is full of extremes: the digital divide between the countryside and the cities, the disconnect between constitutional guarantees regarding freedom of expression and the reality of its implementation in the face of controversial media laws and a powerful regulator.
The traditional media scene in the capital is diverse (radio, TV, print and online) and quite critical; many people have access. In the countryside, radio still dominates with much less access to social media. While there are many developments that influence digital participation negatively, there are also many trends that clearly point in a positive direction.
The #speakup barometer is a DW Akademie project that examines the connection between digital participation, freedom of expression and access to information. Learn more at www.dw.com/barometer