Unmasking Digital Colonialism: Empowering Civil Society Organisations in the Digital Age

Unmasking Digital Colonialism: Empowering Civil Society Organisations in the Digital Age

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The technological revolution in today’s global village has become an indispensable part of our existence. It has transformed how we communicate, obtain information, and interact with society. 

Despite creating an interconnected community, underneath the surface of this digital revolution lies a complicated happening known as “digital colonialism”. 

Digital colonialism refers to the imbalanced power dynamics and exploitative practices that emerge when major tech giants and countries exercise dominance over the digital space of less powerful regions. 

Therefore, it is crucial to explore the effect of digital colonialism on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and how civic actors can be strengthened to effectively tackle these challenges. 

Digital Colonialism: Understanding the Phenomenon 

Digital colonialists also known as tech conglomerates,  build communication infrastructures, including social media platforms and network connectivity, primarily to collect data, generate profits, and store information for predictive analytics.   

Digital colonialism encompasses a range of issues, including data mining, surveillance capitalism, and the monopolisation of information by tech giants.  

It also involves a decentralised extraction and control of data from citizens, sometimes without their consent 

Impact on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) 

As the internet becomes an essential space for CSOs to advance their causes, they tend to face significant challenges in utilising digital tools while safeguarding their autonomy and sovereignty. This often leads to a paradox where these organisations find themselves heavily dependent on digital platforms controlled by third parties. 

The global digital divide remains a formidable obstacle, with more than half of the world’s population lacking internet access, particularly affecting third world countries. This lack of access to technology hinders CSOs’ ability to connect with target audiences, access critical resources, and mobilise support effectively, exacerbating existing inequalities. 

Data Extraction, Surveillance Capitalism, and Algorithmic Biases 

Technology corporations collect massive amount of data from users, often without transparent consent, leading to concerns about privacy violations and surveillance capitalism.  

This data is then used to fuel algorithms that shape the information people see online, potentially limiting the visibility of CSOs’ causes and reinforcing dominant narratives that may not align with their objectives.  

Moreover, algorithmic bias within digital platforms poses another challenge for CSOs. Algorithms, designed and controlled by external entities, can inadvertently marginalise certain voices, perpetuate stereotypes, and suppress vital information that CSOs aim to disseminate. This inherent bias hinders the ability of CSOs to engage with diverse audiences and promote inclusivity. 

Empowering CSOs: Recommendations for a More Equitable Digital Space 

1. Digital Literacy and Capacity Building: To mitigate the effects of digital colonialism, empowering CSOs with digital literacy and capacity building training is essential. Local and international organisations can collaborate to offer workshops and training on digital tools, data management, and cybersecurity. These efforts will enable CSOs to restore autonomy of their online presence and protect their data and privacy effectively. 

2. Advocating for Open-Source and Decentralised Solutions: Promoting the implementation of open technologies and decentralised platforms can alleviate the dependency on closed-source software and external control. Open-source solutions provide transparency, safety, and customisation options, allowing CSOs to modify their digital strategies according to their needs. 

3. Promotion of Digital Rights and Data Protection: CSOs have an essential duty to perform when it comes to advocating for digital rights and data protection laws within their regions. By collaborating with policymakers and other stakeholders, CSOs can influence the creation of fair and transparent regulations that safeguard the interests of citizens and organisations alike. 

4. Strengthening Regional and Global Networks: Collaboration and information sharing among CSOs at regional and global levels can enhance their collective voice and resilience against digital colonialism. By forming alliances and networks, CSOs can strategise together, share best practices, and amplify their impact in advocating for a more equitable digital space. 

Digital colonialism poses significant challenges to civil society organisations seeking to leverage the internet’s potential to advance their missions.

However, by prioritising digital literacy, advocating for data protection, and embracing open-source solutions, CSOs can reclaim agency over their digital presence and foster a more equitable digital ecosystem.

To achieve this, collective effort from governments, tech companies, and civil society sectors is imperative in dismantling the structures of digital colonialism and fostering an inclusive and accessible digital space that empowers CSOs and upholds democratic principles and human rights for all. 

About the author

Eno Kwatemaa Antwi-Bosiako

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FIIFI BOATENG

Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.

NANCY KANKAM KUSI

Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.

AGNES ADWOA ANIMA

Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.

DORIS ODEI

Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.

PRINCE AKOWUAH

Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

MAXWELL APENTENG

Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.

GEORGE ADU-MINTAH

George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.

IBRAHIM KWAKU GBADAGO

Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.

RUTH YAKANA

Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

BETHEL KWAME BOATENG

Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.

WHITNAY SEGNONNA

Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.

STELLA YAWA WOWOUI

Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.

KWAME ASANTE

Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.

GRACE AKPENE ZIGGAH

Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.

LILLIAN DAFEAMEKPOR

Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

JOHN P. FRINJUAH

John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.

GERVIN CHANASE

Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.

LEANDRE BANON

Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.

SAMUEL APPIAH

Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.

JIMM CHICK FOMUNJONG

Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.

FRANCK A. SOMBO

Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.

OMOLARA T. BALOGUN

Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.

KWABENA KRODUAH

Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.

CHARLES KOJO VANDYCK

Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.

NANA ASANTEWA AFADZINU

Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.