Author : Samir Saran

Expert Speak Digital Frontiers
Published on Jun 05, 2019
Chair's message, CyFy Africa 2019.
Collapsing frontiers: Between the real and the virtual   

We are delighted to announce the second edition of CyFy Africa: The Conference on Technology, Innovation and Society. In 2013, we felt that emerging economies needed to have a voice and a platform to discuss the key issues agitating cyberspace. This gave birth to CyFy India. Eight editions and two continents later, we are very excited by the dynamism of this community and the conversations that have made CyFy a premier forum for all things digital.

Indeed, it was the overwhelmingly positive response to the first edition of CyFy Africa in 2018 that gave us the energy and enthusiasm to make this conference an annual affair. We are happy that we have more speakers, institutions and partners this year than we did in the previous year–and they have all contributed to the strength and diversity of our agenda.

It is not a stretch to say that cyberspace and emerging technologies are the most important drivers of change today. However, they are operating in a vacuum—international institutions have failed to provide governance propositions for cyberspace. Domestic regimes have not fared better. Around the world, there are some very polarising debates about data protection frameworks, human rights regimes and security policies. CyFy India began as an endeavour to find a consensus on these questions. Bringing this platform to Africa allows us to continue engaging in these debates with a wider community of stakeholders.

It is, however, a misnomer to think of CyFy as a technology conference alone—even though it may say so on the banner. Today, conversations on technology are as much discussions on human and social behaviour, about the management of organisations and states and even the governance of the international system as a whole. A discussion about technology encompasses conflict and compassion, trade and diplomacy, and war and peace. Today, the feedback loops between the real and the virtual are palpable and our agenda for CyFy Africa captures this phenomenon.

And there is a good reason for this: CyFy also represents a search for a new social contract. All new technologies disrupt existing relationships between citizen, community, business and state. Responses driven by fear and anxiety—which we see a lot of—will invariably lead to suboptimal outcomes. We remain—perhaps naively—a community of optimists. Our goal is to use technology to improve livelihoods, spur new innovation and to create resilient, free and secure societies.

Of course, creating such societies requires partnership and dialogue—which is hard to come by in a generation that focuses on the “I”. Our objective with CyFy Africa is to reach out; to create new possibilities for the transfer off ideas, knowledge and solutions. We seek to create omnidirectional flows that transcend 20th century divides of North, South, East and West. We want to see technology valleys emerge from new communities and societies that are capable of providing innovations and solutions to all.

Here in Africa, and back in India, we see a burning desire to do this—to not only leapfrog constraints and obstacles, but to change lives around the world. CyFy seeks to give voice to this optimism for technology. Lazy incumbencies must give way to new actors, voices and propositions. In an age of disruption, we have tried to bring together the disrupters; the innovators and entrepreneurs that are shaping a new world all together.

Now that we have everyone gathered here in the beautiful city of Tangier, Morocco, we hope that the conversations you all take part in over next three days will fulfil these objectives. We would like to see new partnerships and engagements between individuals and institutions who may never have otherwise met. Above all, we hope that CyFy Africa becomes a platform for consensus building, located as it is at the intersection of continents and cultures.

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Samir Saran

Samir Saran

Samir Saran is the President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India’s premier think tank, headquartered in New Delhi with affiliates in North America and ...

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