[Accra, 23 January 2024]- The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) is committed to promoting safe, accessible, and open digital civic space in West Africa.
The Institute is proactively enhancing its capacity to advocate for improved policies and regulatory frameworks, safeguarding citizens’ digital rights and freedoms.
In a five-day training conducted from January 15 to 19, 2024, sixteen participants from various departments of the Institute, including communication and technology, monitoring, evaluation, and learning (M&EL), and programmes , immersed themselves in critical issues impacting the digital civic space in the region.
Led by experts from Paradigm Initiative (PIN), they scrutinised various policies that could foster a conducive environment, facilitate freedom of expression, good governance, democracy, and regional development in the virtual civic space.
The training, hosted at the Institute’s newly constructed secretariat in Accra, provided an invigorating platform for the civic actors to craft advocacy plans targeting key countries such as Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, and Cote d’Ivoire.
Delving into key aspects of digital policies and activism, the Institute explored ways to equip civil society organisations (CSOs) with the knowledge needed to leverage technology and digital spaces effectively for development.
Head of ME&L, Franck Sombo, under whose auspices the training was organised, stressed the crucial role civil society plays in maintaining and promoting a safe digital space.
He observed that a free, accessible, and safe digital space fosters sharing of ideas and promotes participatory governance.
“Digital rights and digital advocacy are very critical in the work we do because they provide the environments within which we are able to achieve the expression of our skills, capacity, awareness, and engagements” he said.
Expressing profound gratitude to the Mott Foundation for supporting the initiative under the Digital Security Capacity Strengthening and Outreach project, Sombo said the project aims to build the digital resilience of civic actors for safe technology leverage in Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal.
Executive Director of PIN, Gbenga Sesan, one of the facilitators of the training observed that WACSI is strategically positioned to contribute towards pushing back restrictions to open digital civic space in West Africa.
“You have the capacity to address issues beyond one country and already have the network to be able to get information, additional knowledge and apply it immediately to your advocacy,” he said.
Sesan expressed optimism about WACSI’s advocacy prospects and encouraged participants to put their knowledge and skills into practice. “I think you were born ready because you’re an Institute”, he noted.
Melissa Juisi, a Programme Assistant in the Capacity Strengthening Unit, found the training impactful.
“This training was really helpful as I had the opportunity to better appreciate the system of internet governance in West Africa,” she said.
Elom Kossi Joël AYALE, an M&EL Programme Assistant at WACSI, emphasised the training’s significance in a time when governments in West Africa employ various tactics, often under the disguise of surveillance, to curtail citizens’ rights to speech and freedom of expression.
“Strengthening the digital security of CSOs is one thing, but facilitating their access and freedom of expression in the digital civic space is quite another,” he noted.
Thanks to this training, WACSI’s team will work to equip 40 CSOs across four West African countries with robust skills to advocate for safe digital spaces in their respective countries. They will also work to build an alliance of like-minded actors working to advocate for a digitally friendly environment in the region.