TEDxDzorwulu organizer Mac-Jordan Degadjor named Ghana’s first Internet Freedom Fellow

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Mac-Jordan speaks at TEDxYouth@Inspire

TEDxDzorwulu organizer Mac-Jordan Degadjo is a TEDx’er, writer, blogger, activist, and — most recently — a U.S. Department of State Internet Freedom Fellow.

According to a press release from the US embassy to Ghana,”The Internet Freedom Fellows program brings human rights activists from across the globe to Geneva, Washington, and Silicon Valley to meet with fellow activists, U.S. and international government leaders, and members of civil society and the private sector engaged in technology and human rights.”

Until 2013, there had yet to be an Internet Freedom Fellow from Ghana. Mac-Jordan is the first.

His work covering the 2012 Ghanian presidential elections online; advocating for the protection of and collaboration between Ghanian bloggers through a group called BloggingGhana; and co-organizing BarCamps throughout the country to, as the embassy reports, encourage young Ghanians to "get on-line where ever and however they can, making sure they have Ghanaian peers available to walk them through tech challenges," garnered the attention of the program, and a place among this year’s fellows.

"A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet," Mac-Jordan said when we spoke to him about the fellowship. "I believe in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, which states that: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’

"If access to the Internet was blocked when I moved to Ghana in 2007, there [wouldn’t have been] news about innovations, entrepreneurship and others coming from Africa and Ghana. Keeping the Internet free and open means more jobs opportunities are shared through social networks and forums, the spirit of innovation and creativity is encouraged."

Mac-Jordan is especially interested in social media, which he spoke about at TEDxYouthInspire in 2010. “Social media is playing a key role in every aspect of our lives,” he told TEDx, “moving beyond just networking. Social media is also changing the way traditional news sources distribute their information. It enables every Internet user to freely access, produce, and share information with networks across borders. It makes power disseminate into society with ease.”

What does he plans to do now that he’s an Internet Freedom Fellow? “The core aim of this fellowship is to share experiences and lessons learned on the importance of a free Internet to the promotion of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly as fundamental human rights,” he said. “Therefore, I’ll use this fellowship to inspire my generation/network of youths about the positive effects social media and the Internet can bring to them.”

You can follow Mac-Jordan’s work on his blog, or on Twitter or Facebook. For more of his thoughts on technology and Internet freedom, read the rest of our interview below:

TEDx: How did you hear about TED? About TEDx? Why did you decide to host a TEDx event?

I first heard about TED when Emeka Okafor was looking for awesome people doing positive stuff in their communities in Africa to feature at TEDGlobal 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania. I had just moved to Ghana from Ukraine after [being] away for 5 years schooling. I followed the conversation from Arusha and was very inspired by William Kamkwamba’s story.

…In 2010, my social activism caught the eyes of Raquel Wilson-Sow who was planning TEDxYouthInspire in Accra, Ghana. She approached me to speak about my experiences using social media and how it’s been very beneficial to me and my community. An opportunity I jumped at remembering how William Kamkwamba shared his story in Arusha, Tanzania.

Fast forward to 2011, I had to put a team together for TEDxDzorwulu because after TEDxYouthInspire, [there had been] no other TEDx event [in the area.] … I organized my event because, I realized there was the need for the youth in my community to be inspired by their own peers. The spirit of innovation, thinking and creating was almost lacking and I had to do something to bring it.

TEDx: The event you organized —TEDxDzorwulu — was in Accra in Ghana. What was the day like? What were some of the most memorable moments?

TEDxDzorwulu was an event which brought a lot of people from all the country together to share ideas, network and learn from other on the theme: think, create and innovate.

…One key memorable moment was having young out-of-school graduate Fred Mawul Deegbe share on how he quit his full-time at a prestigious bank in Accra to start his own shoe-making company - Heel The World Shoes (HTW Shoes). A lot of the audience were inspired by his story and I was very glad to have him on stage. He’s one of the leading entrepreneurs in Ghana who was recently [honored] by the Ghanaian President at the National Youth Awards.

TEDx: 2012 was an election year in Ghana. What kind of role did social media and the Internet play in forming public opinion? Was this cycle of elections much different than those of the past?

In 2008, filmmaker Jarreth Merz covered the presidential/parliamentary election highlighting on the “high and low” moments which saw the country achieve its title as the Beacon of Africa’s democracy worldwide. The video, which made rounds on various social media platforms (blogs, YouTube, Facebook and Tumblr), was used in educating the general Ghanaian citizenry about what actually took places at the various election centers and among the politicians.

In 2012, Blogging Ghana (a non-partisan group of bloggers and social media enthusiasts) applied for a grant from STAR-Ghana to use social media tools (Blogs, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) to monitor, engage and inform citizens both online and offline on Ghana’s election issues for the first time. Not only did we monitor and engage the citizens, but we also encouraged citizen participation in the 2012 election by educating them and pointing them to the right information and sources.

2012’s election was different because, the Electoral Commission for the first time, recognized the status of bloggers as contributors to the media scene and therefore had a role to play in the elections by granting us [credentials] to participate in the election monitoring process.

TEDx: You worked with GhanaDecides to help cover and liveblog the election online, correct? What is GhanaDecides and why did you decide to be part of this?

I worked on the GhanaDecides project as a Technical Advisor. GhanaDecides is a non-partisan election initiative by Blogging Ghana – using both offline engagement and social media platforms like Twitter, Youtube and Facebook to inform, educate and encourage citizen participation in the 2012 election.

I covered and monitored the elections in Sekondi-Takoradi, a town in the Western Region of Ghana. As a blogger and Freedom of Information fellow, I volunteered to cover and monitor the elections because I wanted to interact with voters, learn from the experience and later share with my colleagues bloggers who were also deployed to other parts of the country.

TEDx: What was a shining moment in Ghana Internet activism in 2012? Has there ever been a moment when you’ve thought to yourself, “the Internet is much more powerful than I thought”?

There’s been quite a few shining moments in Ghana’s Internet activism but the story of Vice Magazine’s Motherboard TV getting it wrong on Ghana will be one to use at this point.

On April 8, 2011, Ghanians came across a very demeaning and disgraceful article titled “Inside the criminal world of Ghana’s e-mail scam gangs” by Thomas Morton, which got featured on the CNN website. Ghanaian bloggers considered the journalist to be completely uninformed and biased and therefore decided to point them in the right direction, which was covered in a summary I did on Global Voices Online - Ghana: Bloggers React to Demeaning and Misleading Article

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