Reflections from Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum 2024 (DRIF24): A conversation with Wikimedians

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A photograph featuring over 20 Wikimedians at the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum 2024 (DRIF24)
Wikimedians at the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum 2024 (DRIF24). Image by Ziski Putz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

For the third year in a row, the Wikimedia Foundation sponsored the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF). The milestone was marked not only by our largest ever presence at this Africa-focused conference, but also by it being the first time that the Foundation granted four Wikimedians scholarships to attend the event. Over 20 Wikimedians were present and participated at DRIF24, including local Wikimedians, scholarship recipients, and Foundation staff.

DRIF is an annual conference hosted by Paradigm Initiative. It is a space where digital policies in Africa are debated and shaped, and partnerships for action are formed. This year it was hosted in Accra, Ghana, and focused on fostering rights and inclusion in the digital age. The topic aligns closely both with our movement’s 2030 agenda and regional affiliates’ work to promote the inclusion of youth, women, and Indigenous languages online. Wikimedians participated in discussions on important topics, building on similar discussions at last year’s DRIF23 in Kenya. In conversation with partners like Women of Uganda Network, UNICEF Ghana, the Mozilla Foundation, and Article 19, Wikimedians shared learnings about preventing electoral disinformation, promoting access to education in offline environments with initiatives like the Kiwix4Schools project, and supporting the inclusion of women in online spaces. You can read more about Wikimedians’ sessions at DRIF24 in our previous blog post.

We spoke with the people who represented the Wikimedia community at DRIF: the booth organizers, speakers, and scholarship recipients. This blog post covers their experiences at the event, what they’re taking away from it, and why they think that supporting and presenting at regional conferences like DRIF is important. 

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DRIF in retrospective: Questions and Answers with Wikimedians

1. What was your overall experience of DRIF?

Douglas Ssebaggala (Wikimedia Community User Group Uganda): “DRIF24 was an eye-opener to the vast opportunities and avenues for the Wikimedia Movement to collaborate and share knowledge with other organizations that have a similar vision. The conference also highlighted the key role that the Wikimedia Foundation’s Global Advocacy team needs to continue to play to ensure that such collaborations can happen now, and in the future.”

Justice Okai-Allotey (Wikimedia Ghana User Group): “As a newcomer to the conference, what stood out to me most was the closed-door discussion hosted by the Freedom Online Coalition: it was insightful in many ways and challenged us as Africans to be vigilant about our freedoms online, and the importance of being involved in conversations about these topics. I walked away with a sense of how important that proactive engagement is to streamline the safety of internet users. I look forward to further conversations about the Global Digital Compact and how we can prevent actions that seek to take away our internet freedoms.”

Nkem Osuigwe (Wikimedia User Group Nigeria): “DRIF24 provided the opportunity to learn how to expand digital inclusion in Africa so that no one is left behind. This is of great significance for the continent where many—because of gender or educational status—can be excluded from the digital economy, either intentionally or unintentionally. Attending the conference as a first-timer exposed me to the topic of gaps in digital literacy learning, and also to the possible role of African libraries as mass educators of digital rights that can pave the way to digital inclusion in the continent.”

Jael Serwaa Boateng (Open Foundation West Africa), Adjovi Essenam Fumey (Wikimedia Community User Group Sénégal), and Eugene Masiku (Open Foundation West Africa) shared that participating in DRIF was a chance to establish meaningful connections with other individuals from diverse backgrounds and a diversity of organizations in relation to discussions about the digital space, to learn more about the initiatives of other organizations in the open movement, and to connect with Wikimedians from across the continent. Eugene explained that for him, “the cherry on top was the social hour for Wikimedians that was hosted at the Open Foundation West Africa’s office. It was wonderful to connect with the Wikimedia community members who were in attendance.”

2. In what way do you think other DRIF attendees benefited from Wikimedians’ participation? What do you think they learned from you?

Ceslause Ogbonnaya (Igbo Wikimedians User Group): “It always makes me smile when I meet people who call us “ghost workers” because they don’t see the work that we do to add content to Wikipedia, but read our edits on Wikipedia. I enjoy letting them know that we are regular people, just like them, who chose to make a change by documenting free and open knowledge using the Wikimedia projects. In fact, I met someone who thought ‘only white people’’ edit Wikipedia. I was glad to correct that impression, and didn’t waste time introducing her to members from the Wikimedia community in Ghana once I learned that she was based in Accra.”

Jael: “Wikimedians’ participation ensured that other conference attendees learned about the role of open knowledge and free information in promoting digital rights and inclusion. We raised awareness about the Wikimedia movement’s commitment to democratizing access to knowledge and the various ways in which Wikimedia projects contribute to preserving cultural heritage and promoting education. Our emphasis on community-driven content creation and the importance of accurate, freely accessible information resonated with many participants.”

Douglas: “DRIF24 attendees learned about the importance of Wikimedians’ work and activities, especially how important the open source infrastructure and freely licensed content from the Wikimedia ecosystem and specific projects like Wikipedia are for the development of other digital tools like ChatGPT. Our participation was important to remind African thought leaders that Wikimedia projects are an essential source of reference for knowledge and content generation.”

Eugene: “During my interactions with other participants, I encountered a lot of misconceptions about Wikimedia projects, especially about Wikipedia. I was able to educate many individuals and clarify how Wikipedia as well as offline tools like Kiwix work. The booth also functioned as a central resource hub for anyone seeking information about the projects and the broader Wikimedia community.”

Essenam: “DRIF offered an opportunity to the Wikimedians who were present to raise awareness of Wikimedia projects. Each interaction was an opportunity to explain what we do, invite participants to contribute to the projects, and make it easier for them to find user groups in their country. Wikipedia and the other projects were presented as platforms on which anyone can safely contribute.”

3. What key lessons and insights will you be sharing back with your community?

Many Wikimedians recognized and highlighted the same key lessons. Here is what they emphasized: 

  • Every Wikimedian and local user group or community plays an important role as members of civil society in shaping the direction of digital policy and advocating digital rights and inclusion. 
  • Public policy advocacy should be an integral part of what Wikimedians do, irrespective of the focus of a given user group.
  • Meeting other actors in the digital rights space—both those operating in specific west African countries and those operating across the region—is valuable. These contacts can become important partners for Wikimedians, supporting local events, becoming important contributors to Wikimedia projects, and joining as allies in shared public policy initiatives.

Essenam: “I am inspired to follow the standard that DRIF set when it came to the inclusion of people with disabilities.”

Jael: “I will be sharing the importance of advocating digital rights and the need to protect freedom of expression and access to information online (Wikimedians in Ghana could even come together to advocate freedom of panorama), and the value of cross-sector collaboration in addressing digital rights issues.”

Nkem: “Attending DRIF2024 helped me recognise the importance of getting the library staff in these areas equipped to lead their community members into an understanding of digital rights and security. The African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA) would take this forward and would create awareness about digital rights and inclusion in Africa’s library sector as well as equip information professionals within the sector on how to be advocates of digital rights and inclusion within their user communities.”

Justice: “Taking your digital security seriously was one of my highlights from DRIF24, especially in the context of approaching elections in Ghana and concerns about disinformation and other efforts at interference. We are also planning a newsletter for our community to share some of our learnings from the conference.”

4. If you could participate again next year, what would you present?

Essenam: “I’ll be highlighting the support and inclusion of minorities, while also proposing an edit-a-thon to allow interested participants to discover editing on Wikipedia and the other projects.”

Eugene: “I would speak about how Wikimedians contribute to the documentation and dissemination of traditional knowledge and cultural heritage.”

Ceslause: “I would love to present how African indigenous languages are being preserved in Wikimedia projects through the Africa Knowledge Initiative.”

Douglas: “I would have a group of Wikimedians present how we used insights from DRIF24 and the recent Global Advocacy meet-up in Chile to drive change. Ideally we would have a public policy advocacy milestone that we try to achieve by this point.”

Nkem: “There should be presentations from Wikimedians who work in the library sector to cover the intersections between digital access, digital literacy skills, social justice issues, and helping others add their voices and stories to Wikimedia projects. There is also a need to explore how the integration of open knowledge principles can drive digital inclusion and visibility for African knowledge.”

Justice: “I would provide an update on our freedom of panorama advocacy work in Ghana, and also speak about our collaboration with the Wikimedia Foundation and other affiliates around the Global Digital Compact.”

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The Foundation’s support of regional conferences like DRIF24 helps promote the larger ecosystem of digital rights activists and civil society organizations who advocate policy frameworks and regulations that support human rights on the internet.

At the same time, this convening creates a space for Wikimedians across the region to meet each other and expand their networks with key public policy partners in their respective countries. Open Foundation West Africa contributed to this by generously hosting a reception for all the attending Wikimedians to gather and connect.We look forward to continuing to help Wikimedians showcase their expertise and engage in important regional discussions to shape digital rights and access to free knowledge around the world!

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