The voice of the unconnected is just as valuable as the voice of the connected

The Global Citizens’ Dialogue on the Future of the Internet will bring together more than 70 countries on October 10. One month before the event, Yao Sossou, Computer scientist and official partner of Missions Publiques in Benin, talks about the reasons for his commitment and what he expects from this dialogue for his country.

Missions Publiques: Why did you decide to join the adventure “We, the Internet”?

Yao Sossou: As a fervent defender of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and education for all, I am particularly interested in decision-making in the development of public policies. On a personal level, being part of the “We, The Internet” project not only allows me to strengthen my leadership and managerial skills in terms of project management, but I also get to contribute to the inclusion of ordinary citizens in decision-making related to Internet governance.

How is the recruitment of Beninese citizens going?

It is an honor and a joy for me to be part of this citizen deliberation on the future of the Internet, and to integrate the voice of Beninese people in the decision-making process on the future of the Internet. In line with the principles of inclusion of Missions Publiques, we must invite people both connected and unconnected. The voice of the unconnected is as valuable as the voice of the connected. It is interesting to include everyone in the discussion and to understand each other’s issues on a topic that is changing our interactions and activities.

How do you ensure the inclusion of urban and rural populations?

We are planning two discussion rooms: one in Cotonou, the country’s economic capital, and the other in Parakou, a more landlocked city in the north of the country. To encourage citizens to participate in the dialogue, we have developed a mixed strategy. We shared an online form via Google Form for those who are familiar with the Internet. Then I trained a team of young people who are present in the field and who are responsible for recruiting participants. I personally coached them to understand the essence of the dialogue and how important it is to reach out to everyone, regardless of their level of computer literacy. They need to grasp the philosophy of the project in order to be able to explain to all citizens why we are all concerned by digital affairs.

What are the consequences of COVID-19 on the organization of dialogue in Benin?

The COVID-19 pandemic is on the rise in Benin, as in most countries of sub-Saharan Africa. In order to be in phase with the prerogatives of the State and international organizations, we decided to adapt the logistics of the dialogue and to divide the group of participants into two rooms. This approach will reduce the number of people per room by half and will allow us to respect the barrier measures as well as the rules of social distancing. We will therefore have a maximum of 50 people in each room.

How do you encourage citizens, and the press, to come on October 10?

In mid-September, we will launch a radio campaign to reach an audience that we have missed so far.

We intend to ensure media coverage of the event by both the online press and national television. We hope to have ICANN’s Vice President Africa with us. We also plan to send invitations to their Excellencies the Minister in charge of Digital and Digitization and the Minister of Communication. We hope their presence at the opening ceremony. We also plan to give each participant a T-shirt and other “We, The Internet” gadgets.

I would like to take this opportunity to praise the promptness of ISOC Benin, the NGO Women Be Free, AFRINIC, the African ICT foundation, FGI Benin, Club DSI, and other personalities of the Internet ecosystem in Benin. I would like to thank them for their vital financial support for the success of the event. I do not forget the members of my team at GYN Benin for their dedication.

What are your fears and hopes?

Although I have already participated in the organization of events at the community level, this is the first time I have organized a dialogue with citizens at the national level. I am not afraid of the participants’ support, but I fear that some of them will withdraw at the last minute. I am thinking above all of those who live in remote areas and for whom I will not be able to provide material and financial support.

For future editions, I hope that we will be able to broaden the dialogue in more Beninese cities but also that this initiative will contribute to consolidating the dynamism of the Internet community in Benin. I expect this dialogue to be a real mediator between the actors involved in the management of the Internet and the citizens.

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