Now more than ever, public health, social prosperity and economic growth are inseparable from technical progress; artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies deliver innovative solutions to economic challenges.
However, technological ecosystems cannot attain economic development goals without information accessibility. This is because access to information policies and laws strengthen good governance and make public data widely available. They affirm transparency as a criterion of achieving peace and development.
This message and a commitment to link technology and access to information echoed aloud before the COVID-19 crisis, and its relevance has only grown.
The linking of technology and access to information was especially marked at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, during the second African Regional Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, held on 24-27 February 2020. The event was within the framework of the sixth session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development.
Titled “2010-2030: A Decade to deliver a transformed and prosperous Africa through the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063”, the forum was hosted by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development. It was co-organized by UNESCO in collaboration with the African Union Commission and the Department of Science and Innovation of South Africa.
A highlight was a session dedicated to the role of technology, innovation and information accessibility in advancing the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, to provide access to justice for all, and to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”
The session brought panelists and representatives from regional institutions and civil societies, as well as international organizations to share insights on how emerging technologies and access to information could effectively advance global and continental mandates.
In his keynote, Emeka Joseph Nwagboso from the Pink Blue Project, one of the winners of the “Innovation in Action Competition”, discussed how ICT has the potential to provide access to healthcare for cancer patients in Nigeria, and stimulate action against the disease. He shared how the app Pink Blue provides patients with immediate access to cancer centers, peer support navigators and cancer information available in many several languages, including Pidgin.
Highlighting the danger of false information across the African continent, Toneo Tonderai Rutsito, the founder and editor in chief of Zimbabwe’s TechnoMag, said, “misinformation and disinformation are barriers to the achievement of peace in the African context.” To promote peace, he and other panelists also affirmed that protection of digital workers, including youth in innovation and technology training, and open access to information must be the immediate priorities for governments.
The conference also discussed how Artificial intelligence could play a vital role in economic growth regionally and continentally.
Both the director of the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning, Karima Bounemra Ben Soltane, and the former Rwandan science minister, Romain Murenzi, insisted that adequate policymaking and state provision must accompany developments in artificial intelligence to prevent and mitigate the latter’s negative effects when these technologies become integrated in African economies.
A cross-cutting theme at the event was that African governments should hasten their efforts in implementing access to information laws, so as to promote information and data sharing, transparency and open science to achieve sustainable development.
Committed to advancing technology and access to information policies for sustainable development, UNESCO fosters the creation of knowledge societies. This includes advocacy for inclusion, peace, participation and equality through the innovative use of information and communication technologies. In Africa and elsewhere, UNESCO furthers the cause of public access to information as a right that enables justice, peace and strong institutions.
UNESCO's work on the monitoring and reporting on public access to information has been made possible through the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Germany and The Netherlands that was contributed to the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).