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OpenNet Africa Final Pitch Event: Digital Safety and Security Tools Testing - What Transpired

As part of CIPESA’s OpenNet Africa initiative which is aimed at promoting internet freedom in the region through digital security and safety skills development, creating awareness on the status of online freedoms and how to protect them, building a network of the region’s actors in this domain, and advocacy to engender a more progressive digital rights regime in East Africa, Outbox worked with the local tech community to test select digital safety and security tools to understand what works well and why and what might need change.   

Three teams including Tech4Dev, Ghost in the Wires and African Value with members from different fields participated in this project with support from experienced mentors Baldwin Okello and Wilson Abigaba for a period of 6 weeks.

On 2nd June 2015, the 3 teams presented their test/familiarisation findings and localisation ideas to make the tools better, before a panel of judges including Neil Blazevic working with Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Mark Kiggundu, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and Richard Lusimbo working with Sexual Minorities Uganda.

Also part of the judging panel were the two mentors, Baldwin and Wilson, CIPESA and Outbox.

Each team was allocated 10 minutes each to present their findings, with another 5 minutes for questions and answers as asked by the judges and the audience which comprised of 22 people including a 4 member team from CIPESA and other interested parties..

The teams

Tech4Dev a team comprising of 5 members in different fields of Software development and one human rights defender, explored and presented their test findings based on three tools; Redphone, Cryptocat and Martus, sighting their test findings  and localization ideas for each of the tools including the Audience.

Team Ghost in the Wires with 5 members, had a set of diverse skills across the team to include, a Software Developer, Social media specialist, a Lawyer, a Network security specialist and Voice over IP specialist. This team explored and presented a report on four tools including Martus, Redphone, Mailvelope and Cryptocat.

They explored the usage of these tools sighting Uganda as a case study with examples from other countries.

African Value comprised of 3 team members all Software Engineering students from Makerere University who have been developing for software development companies including Lecodesoft.

This team also did research and explored 3 tools including Cryptocat, Textsecure and mailvelope.

The Judging

After consolidation of the judging process which took a period of one week and through the pitching process, Tech4Dev emerged the winners and took the first prize, The Ghost in the wires came second and African Values third.

All the three teams were awarded cash prizes of USD 300, USD 250 and USD 200 for the first, second and third positions respectively.

Each team member was also awarded a certificate of participation in this years, OpenNet Africa project.

About the mentors

Baldwin Okello works as an IP Core Manager at Uganda Telecom Limited where he manages a team of at least 10 Network specialists. He possess developed skills that have been gained through establishing and developing Network Infrastructure projects from initial conception to successful implementation. LinkedIn profile.

Wilson Abigaba worked as an IPCC Team Leader, assistant Manager, IP Core & Data Networks and IT Projects Manager at Orange Telecom Uganda. Prior to working with Orange, Wilson worked as a Software developer at Computer Frontiers Intl and also IPCC team lead at HIPS Telecom. LinkedIn profile.

About the judges

Neil Blazevic is a researcher and Information Management Officer at East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) where is responsible for developing the research programme to produce thematically and geographically relevant research reports, improving communications and information sharing among network members, and leveraging social media avenues to improve the accessibility of information and promote the work of EHAHRDP and EHAHRD-Net members.

Mark Kiggundu works with the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) seeks to strengthen the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) throughout the region by reducing their vulnerability to the risk of persecution and by enhancing their capacity to effectively defend human rights.

Richard Lusimbo is working with Sexual Minorities Uganda SMUG as a Researcher. He is also the Chairman Africa research team at Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights and at the same time, a Co-Chair at Pan African ILGA for one year now. LinkedIn profile

Social Media engagement

Prior to the final event, the participants, judges, mentors, CIPESA and Outbox participated in social media engagement with discussions related to local context online freedom issues. The participants had different views, and also shared some of their learnings during the twitter engagement. Use #OpenNetAfrica, #GhostInTheWires, #Tech4Dev #AfricanValue #digitalsafty to access the conversation.

Quoted learnings from participants

“The OpenNet Africa project made me understand the need to be more security conscious with the fast change in technology, Every new technology poses a new threat to the tools used,” says Sharon who was part of team Ghost in the Wires.

Joshua from Tech4Dev mentioned that he was able to understand and differentiate the tools and which ones are more vulnerable to security threats. The team work with members from different fields also made him appreciate the need to help secure information in all the vulnerable sectors.

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