Africa: Internet Access Uneven Across Sub-Saharan Africa As Campaign Dubbed #UnmuteTheWorld Launched to Address Gap

Nairobi — A campaign dubbed #UnmuteTheWorld, has been launched to make internet access a fundamental right and ensure 3.7 billion people are connected virtually.

The campaign launched last week called for action on the digital divide especially since COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenge as connections and opportunities increasingly happen online.

Nearly half of the world’s population lack internet access, hindering access to jobs, education, healthcare, connections and critical information.

According to UNICEF and Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU), access to internet is uneven across Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2019, only 10 of 45 African countries tracked by the Alliance for Affordable Internet were able to afford internet connectivity. Nine out of 10 school-aged children in the region are not connected to the internet at all.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced lockdown restrictions and serious health challenges to the region, has made internet access even more essential to sustain livelihoods, support education and maintain social contact.

#UnmuteTheWorld is a collective effort to raise awareness of this issue and accelerate action to bridge the digital divide within sub-Saharan Africa and around the world.

“In this increasingly virtual world, internet access should not be a luxury but a human right,” said David Gold, CEO of Global Health Strategies and virt.com – a new crowd-sourced platform that helps users find the most meaningful virtual meetings from around the world.”

“The goal of#UnmuteTheWorld is to spur awareness and action on the digital divide that is silencing billions of voices and diverse insights that we need to solve today’s biggest challenges.”

The #UnmuteTheWorld campaign was launched on the inaugural Virtual Meeting Day, established to mark the anniversary of the first two-way video call, which took place 91 years ago between AT&T’s lab and headquarters in New York City.

Nearly a century later, virtual meetings are a daily norm for many, with 87% of people in wealthy countries connected to the internet. Yet only 47% of people are connected in developing nations, and just 19% of people in the least developed countries have access to internet connection.

The campaign calls for a range of actions to address the digital divide:

Governments & Multilateral Agencies must recognize the internet as a fundamental right, and invest in the necessary policies, programs and infrastructure–from expanding online bandwidth to investing in widespread digital literacy and adoption–to ensure that all people can access, afford, use and benefit from digital technologies, regardless of who they are, where they live or how much money they have.

Donors & Funders should increase financial assistance to programs seeking to bridge the digital divide, listen to what communities deem most important and support local champions. Ensuring equitable access to, and adoption of, internet is one of the smartest investments of the 21st century.

Tech Companies should design innovations, products and initiatives with accessibility and inclusivity in mind to maximize positive impact. They should also invest in digital literacy and mentorship programs and support underrepresented communities.

Event organizers must create virtual events that are accessible and inclusive by offering multiple ways to participate to accommodate different bandwidths and devices, and by eliminating any registration or subscription fees that could present barriers to entry. They should also promote events on diverse channels to broaden their audience.

Everyone can raise awareness of the digital divide and share the solutions that would be most impactful where they live.

Organizations and individuals are invited to learn more about the campaign and get involved at www.unmutetheworld.org.

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