Navigating the Digital Divide

Digital divide

Covid-19 has turned the world upside down and has awoken the us to embrace technology. The responsive measures to prevention and containment of Covid-19 across different countries such as cessation of movement in Kenya, closure of offices and other workplaces and lock downs in countries such as Uganda and South Africa has brought to the fore the importance of digitalising. Kenya for example, 17 million learners are out of school from kindergarten to university due to Covid-19. The closure of schools and other learning institutions also reminds us of the digital divide that exists in the country. This divide is not only among the youth (for example urban based youth have more access to digital technology compared to rural youth, it is also an age issue, where younger people have more access to updated technology compared to the elderly).

Access to education and learning can continue for some who have access to computers and internet connection, but sadly for the majority who cannot afford to have laptops at home and no electricity any form of continued learning must wait until Kenya re-opens and normalcy returns to learning institutions. A case in point on the challenge of implementing on e-learning at the University of Nairobi where digital[1] learning was proposed , however, students cited inability   to undertake this mode of learning because some went back home to the their rural homes where there is no electricity, lack of access to laptops and desktop computers for others and inability to buy data bundles enough to undertake a 2-3 hour learning session. It is not automatic that when one is a university student, they will have a laptop or a desktop. For some students especially from humble backgrounds, digitalisation is a mirage except when they are within their classes or university compound. This is why many make use of libraries where access to university Wi-Fi is assured or cyber cafes which is expensive and unsustainable. For those who have laptops but no internet connection, tethering the phone to the laptop is very expensive because the rate of internet bundles consumption is too high. This digital divide among university students, prompted students at the University of Nairobi to express their displeasure using the #UONboycotonlineclasses, some of the sentiments from the students were as follows:

“Online classes is for the privileged .As me an ordinary student , I can’t handle Corona panic, network problems upcountry and the struggle to afford internet”

Boy child.”Okay .I am ready for classes.Let’s start”

Safaricom:Your data bundle is below 2MB

Personally, the Covid pandemic has challenged me to grow digitally. Given that public gathering and other forms of community engagement cannot go on as previously, the alternative way to engage is through Zoom, Facebook and WhatsApp. This is not without challenges because majority of the smallholder farmers I work with are in the rural areas, some do not have smartphones so sending WhatsApp with photos and videos may not work, some do not have electricity and computers in their households, so holding zoom meetings and other interactive forms of digital media is out of question. This is when are forced to reflect on the cost as a barrier to technology. Holding a skype meeting for example to discuss agroecology or climate change, may not be expensive so long as one has internet connection, however in the most rural parts of Kenya, this won’t work and you can only be able to either send text messages or make calls.

Digitalisation has become the new normal. I have embraced it to continue with human rights and social justice work. In my first zoom meeting, I missed majority of the discussion because I did not know how to navigate. Sometimes you are told to raise your hand, you search for the raise hand button but cannot see it, other times the moderator says share screen and you can’t see where to click. It has been a learning process and day by day I accumulate new knowledge and skills. Although online engagement is a bit limited, one cannot afford to sit back and relax. I have organised online training for university students and grassroots focusing on fundraising and resource mobilisation. Sadly, not many students could participate due to a range of constraints (cost of data bundles, internet connectivity, absence of network, lack of electricity given that some went to the rural areas when the universities were closed down), but the few who did comment that they learnt a lot.

To conform to the new normal, we organise weekly dialogues focusing on various social justice issues and invite speakers form different parts of the world to get their perspectives. For example, through Haki Nawiri Afrika[1] , we organised a  climate justice dialogue entitled Climate Crisis: Facing and Uncertain Future  which focused on Climate Negotiations and how the climate negotiations impact on indigenous people with a focus on Dayak community in Borneo- Malaysia, Climate Crisis and Youth, climate crisis, Impact of Covid 19 and peasant’s . The experiences shared in this dialogue included Kenya, Malaysia, Uganda, Angola and Nigeria. Another session on movement building was organised entitled Building International Solidarity Against Injustice with speakers from Kenya, Canada , Guatemala , USA .The topics discussed were The struggle against criminalisation of poverty in Kenya’s informal settlements, the struggle of indigenous people , the Church as a force for change, Bringing Back Tech:Organising using technology, Students movements in Kenya: The wave of  Injustices, Youth and Wind of Change –The case of Black Lives Matter , Grassroots organising and Movement Building : Experiences from Latin America and Building International Solidarity: Intersectionality of Struggles. It was great in the June 23 2020 zoom dialogue to discuss Technology and women’s organising, it was a pleasure having World Pulse very own Tamarack Verrall share about World Pulse and how women are connecting globally, making their voices heard and creating change in different parts of the world.

Technology has become an integral part of me.It is used to communicate with others , to pass on information , to arouse people about issues and speak out against injustice .I also use technology as a tool for self-learning .Since Covid began I have participated in various online webinars   such as Peoples Dialogue Webinar discussing intersectionality of Covid and climate change co-organised by Africa Centre for Biodiversity(ACBIO) ,Global Green New Deal organised by the Transnational Institute(TNI) , discussions on Free Trade Agreements co –organised by Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute(SEATINI) and the Salzburg Process – an international conference with over  250 participants from different parts of the world discussing Climate Emergency and the Future of Food and the Intergenerational Approach to Nature Based Solutions ,The Black Liberation Movement: Centuries of  confronting Colonialism and Racism as well as  Resisting and reclaiming land , territories and people’s sovereignty workshop  among other meetings and learning platforms.

In my opinion, an ideal world is where there is access to technology for everyone and nobody is left behind because they do not have a smart phone, access to electricity and cannot charge their phone, do not have data bundles or have challenges with network and have to climb a tree or a hill to get internet connection.

My ideal world is where we can CONNECT irrespective of which part of the globe.

[1] https://hakinawiriafrica.wordpress.com/

[1] https://www.capitco.ke/thesauce/comrades-boycott-university-of-nairobi-online-classes/

This story was submitted in response to #SheTransformsTech.

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