Investing in the Digital Ecosystem

Date published: Oct. 21, 2022

Secure, open, and inclusive digital ecosystems enable sustainable development. There has been a rapid and widespread uptake of digital tools by individuals, institutions, and governments over the past two decades, in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and globally. Mobile money has lifted people out of poverty by making it easier and cheaper to save and send money, while internet access delivers vital health and education services, among others, to remote areas. The immense potential of digital development to accelerate development objectives is clear and is an emerging priority for USAID. USAID published its first Digital Strategy in 2020 and has developed a host of tools to support digital development.

At the same time, digital ecosystems are associated with an increase in the use of the five tactics of digital repression: censorship, surveillance, digitally-enabled targeted persecution, disinformation, and internet shutdowns. While these tactics can be used by foreign and non-state actors, they are also used by governments to repress their own people.

How can USAID mitigate non-democratic uses of technology? This note summarizes a Landscape Assessment commissioned by the Conflict, Peace Building and Governance division in the Africa Bureau (AFR/SD/CPG) to better understand the links between digital development and digital repression in SSA, and potential strategies to counter its rise. There are no easy answers.

This note intends to help USAID staff to dive into the complexity by providing key definitions, talking points, and questions to start vital conversations on digital repression when planning and implementing new digital activities - regardless of the sector or focus.

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