MozFest 2023: Bridging the Tech Divide on Africa’s Path to AI and Digital Rights

By Eunice Magwambo

The Mozilla Festival House event hosted in Kenya in September 2023 brought together policymakers, technologists, and activists who delved into how emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) have furthered the marginalization of vulnerable groups across the continent and how extractive data practices continue to broaden this gap.

Roselyne Odoyo, Programme Officer at Mozilla, emphasized the event’s objective: “How can we build better together, contribute, and foster collaboration and networking?”

Africa stands at the crossroads of technology and ethics. With the advent of AI, concerns about its implications on the continent’s socio-economic fabric have arisen. From content regulation to the digital labor market, Africa’s tech journey is a story of hope, challenges, and resilient solutions.

Emerging Concerns with AI

At the forefront of discussions was the regulation of content managed by AI. The dynamics between technology and labor, and the profit and loss chasm, especially when third-party intermediaries alter the work for major tech corporations, have been highlighted as primary areas of concern.

While AI’s presence is undeniable, its role in Africa’s future remains contentious. The tech giants’ penetration into the continent often comes at the cost of cheap labor and disregard for labor rights.

As Daniel Motaung, a former Facebook content moderator, whistleblower, and union mobilizer, said, “We cannot rely on ephemeral meetings and CEO promises. Real change is rooted in robust global regulatory measures.”

David stressed the importance of inclusive decision-making in the tech space, emphasizing that AI’s success depends on both governmental and private sector support. He also underscored the need for ethical accountability, especially when profits are on the line.

Decoding Digital Labor

Senior Researcher at Mozilla Foundation, Odanga Madung further shed light on the pressing concerns of digital labor rights in Africa. With tech giants eyeing countries like Kenya and South Africa, there’s a pressing need to establish a collective voice, leveraging tools like the Africa Free Trade Agreement.

Digital Rights: The Broader Picture

The discussions also ventured into the realm of digital rights, with advocates pushing for stronger internet governance. The emphasis was on integrating digital rights education early on and ensuring that businesses uphold these rights.

Sani Suleiman of Paradigm Initiative, Nigeria, highlighted the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill 2017, emphasizing the need for clarity and understanding. The overarching goal remains an African government that respects its citizens’ rights in the digital realm.

Voices from the Ground

Nerima Wako of Siasa Place, emphasized the need for a localized internet that caters to Africa’s unique needs, from language diversity to enhanced penetration.

In Conclusion

Chennai Chair’s closing remarks encapsulated the sentiments of many. The focus should be on community mobilization, holding companies accountable, and ensuring transparency. While the path is fraught with challenges, by identifying key pressure points and leveraging collective strength, Africa can shape its tech destiny.

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