International Youth Day 2018: Reflections for the Tech Ecosystem

The theme of this year’s International Youth Day was “Safe Spaces for Youth”. Safe spaces in this regard refers to spaces in which youth can pursue activities related to their diverse interests freely, participate in the decision making processes of their societies and also fully express themselves. According to the United Nations, these spaces should ensure the dignity and safety of youth.

When youth have safe spaces to engage, they can effectively contribute to development, including peace and social cohesion.

Safe spaces encompass public space, civic space and digital space. Regarding public safe spaces this is interpreted to mean safe, conducive public spaces which enable youth to carry out their activities and business unmolested, it can also be broadly interpreted to mean public safety and freedom from harm and harassment.

Civic safe spaces ensure that youth can actively contribute to governance policy and decision making processes of their society without marginalization or discrimination. While digital safe spaces enable youth to freely interact virtually across borders and have access to available digital resources and opportunities available on global digital platforms.

The theme of International Youth day 2018 resonates deeply within the tech Entrepreneurship ecosystem of Nigeria which is mostly youth driven.  As more young talents embrace tech entrepreneurship, it is important that these individuals provided with safe spaces that will enable them to fully pursue their interests and contribute positively to society.

The theme of “Safe Spaces for Youth” in line with this year’s celebrations gives our local tech entrepreneurship ecosystem some material for reflection.

Public Safe Spaces

The threat of police harassment is a sad reality for young techies in Nigeria. Most law enforcement officers wrongly profile tech savvy youth as internet fraudsters and this leads to harassment, extortion and arbitrary detention.

In most cases youths going about their daily activities are randomly stopped and their laptops and phones are scrutinized in arbitrary stop and search operations by security agents in a bid to find incriminating evidence. There exists a prejudice within law enforcement and society that tech entrepreneurship is not a viable source of livelihood and income gotten from such ventures are usually fraudulent.

A good example of this is the well publicized case of Vaughn Itemuagbor an I.T consultant based in Port-Harcourt who was arrested by security agents on account of suspicions of being an internet fraudster, due to the fact that he introduced himself a youth in the tech industry. He was arbitrarily detained on account of this and made to sign a forced police statement to this regard.

Mr Vaughn E. Ituemagbor. Port-Harcourt based ICT Consultant

Cases like this which are widespread and reoccurring constitute a threat to public safe spaces of young Techies due to profiling, targeting and harassment by security agents,. This prevents these individuals from freely carrying out their lawful businesses.

This situation is disadvantageous to the tech entrepreneurship ecosystem as it can have a negative impact on intake of tech talent and can fuel a tech brain drain as tech talents no longer feel safe within their communities especially in the face of threats from law enforcement agents who are meant to ensure public safe spaces.

This is detrimental to the tech entrepreneurship ecosystem in the long run as it bleeds it of talents which could make it vibrant and globally competitive. It also lessens the productivity of the tech ecosystem since youth shy away from tech entrepreneurship to avoid profiling and harassment.

Civic Safe Spaces

Youths are an integral part of society; therefore they need to be given the space to contribute to governance and policy making. This will ensure that the interests of the youth are reflected in policies made by the Government.

Since the tech ecosystem in Nigeria is youth driven, it is important that youths become more involved in the policy making processes of the country as this will enable them to influence policies that are directly beneficial to the tech entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Such access to civic space by youths involved in tech entrepreneurship will ensure that the issues affecting the tech ecosystem are given due importance in government policy and this will go a long way in ensuring that our ecosystem becomes sustainable and globally competitive.

In line with this, more platforms should be developed to enable useful interaction between the Government, youths and the tech ecosystem. The Port-Harcourt tech entrepreneurship ecosystem has made some strides in accessing this civic space and liaising with the Government and this has resulted in the development of ICT friendly policies by the Rivers State Government and the development of laudable initiatives such as Tech Creek.

Digital Safe Spaces

The theme of International Youth day 2018 also highlights the need for digital safe spaces and this is an important factor for the tech entrepreneurship ecosystem to thrive.

Accessible and affordable internet infrastructure is a key factor in determining the vibrancy of a tech ecosystem. Accessible Internet infrastructure also ensures that youths can have access to digital spaces in line with the theme of International Youth Day 2018.Internet costs and poor ICT infrastructure are factors that deprive youths of access to digital spaces.

Therefore, to ensure that youths are not deprived of the opportunities and resources of the global digital space, initiatives have to be embarked upon to ensure that internet remains accessible and affordable.

In line with this, the Port-Harcourt Tech Startup Community has embarked on an initiative to make safe and affordable broadband accessible to the tech ecosystem. A committee has been set up in this regard and has been making great strides towards achieving this mandate.

Another factor to consider concerning our tech ecosystem and the access to digital safe spaces is the incessant blacklisting of  IP addresses from  Nigeria which is our local tech ecosystem. This denies tech talents complete access to the global digital space and the opportunities and resources therein.

This issue also causes problems for tech entrepreneurs from within the ecosystem as they run into issues trying to access international payment systems which seem to cordon off Nigerian users. This poses logistical issues and denies legitimate businesses access to global markets and thus denies well meaning youth from within the ecosystem fair access to digital safe space.

Cybercrime is usually cited as a reason for these restrictions, while these concerns hold some weight it is unfair when looking at the big picture to impose blanket restrictions on individuals from a promising tech ecosystem.

This is counterproductive because it frustrates legitimate tech entrepreneurs from within the ecosystem from having proper access to the global tech ecosystem and deters more youth from embracing tech entrepreneurship as a legitimate source of income, as a result of this more youth may be lured into nefarious digital practices as legitimate endeavors seem less feasible.

A remedy to this will be the re-orientation of youths in Nigeria to see the legitimate prospects of Tech entrepreneurship and to steer them away from  believing that internet fraud is the only source of income available in the digital space.

The Government of Nigeria should also push policies to ensure that Nigerian youth are not deprived of access to the global digital space through these bans, this could be done through select treaties and bilateral agreements as this will ensure that Nigeria is not left on the sidelines of the global tech race.

“Safe Spaces for Youth” as the theme for International Youth Day 2018 should give the Nigerian Tech Ecosystem an opportunity for sober reflection as the community ponders on the positive impacts of Safe Spaces  on the ecosystem.

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