The 5th African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF) was held from 16 – 18 October 2016 in Durban, South Africa. The AfIGF brought together government representatives, the private sector, academia, technical community, civil society organisations and the media from over 30 African countries.
The African School on Internet Governance
The AfIGF was preceded by the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) held 11-15 October 2016. I was privileged to be a part of the class of 2016, whose dates were strategically planned to precede the AfIGF in order to enhance the learning experience of the 44 graduates who attended the school. As part of its practicum, the class of 2016, which I was privileged to be a part of came up with a statement with recommendations on intentional internet shutdowns which was presented at the AgIGF.
Internet shutdowns are the latest global phenomenon used by governments to ‘control’ citizen action. Globally over 50 internet shutdowns have been recorded for the year 2016. Africa has witnessed varied Internet shutdowns that range from total blackouts of access or targeted interruptions of popular social media platforms. The latest internet shutdowns on the continent include that of The Gambia imposed during the country elections, are Democratic Republic of Congo’s shutdown of social media applications, as the President Kabila’s term of office draws to a close. The reasons proffered for the shutdowns, are usually concerns of public disorder and national security during national elections. They are also used to censor citizens and control mobilisation during citizen-led protests. In some instances the shutdowns are government sanctioned, while in others as is the case with Zimbabwe, the shutdown is unaccounted for.
Parallel session on Internet Rights
The session, which was organised by the Association of Progressive Communications, was an open discussion that focused on the African Declaration of Internet Rights and Freedoms and outlined digital rights trends on the continent
The following recommendations were submitted:
- Within the framework of Internet governance, the promotion of rights and freedom online is the responsibility of governments, and other critical stakeholders that include the media, civil society and the private sector.
- African Governments should consider the cost of not mobilising the potential of the internet as an enabler of free expression and the free flow of information. Rather than view the internet as ‘new media’ that channels dissent, they should realise its potential as a platform for interacting with citizens, deliver services, enhance open governance and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
- The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Principles is a guide to respecting human rights on the internet for policy makers, the media, businesses, the technical community, civil society and human rights defenders.
Connecting the next billion which role for Africa?
This panel discussion centered on how Africa can contribute meaningfully to the next one billion people to be connected to the internet. Panelists noted that the following issues were important in making a meaningful regional contribution:
- The need to promote local content through the development of a model policy framework and a strategy that not only promotes the development of local content but also its consumption.
- The emphasis on the need for open government data initiatives that promote the accessibility of public information and services online. This would include e-government, e-payment systems, e-commerce and e-learning platforms.
- Increase the accessibility of available broadband through the adoption of Private Public Partnerships for the sector.
- Emphasis on the strengthening of collaboration between the ICT industry and education sector for an increase in skills for the development of a digital economy and skills for the creation of digital knowledge networks. This will ensure that relevant skills are developed and promotes for the industry.
- Promotion of affordable internet on the continent through policies that provide for either or all of the following; subsidised broadband costs for academic institutions, reduction of operational costs and multiple tax constraints on internet service providers, levying taxes on internet enabled devices.
- Promotion of Community Networks, which would allow geographically marginalised communities to get connected via a network of WiFi access points. Similarly, the utilisation of TV white spaces for internet deployment to underserved areas and at affordable rates. TV white spaces are unused broadcasting frequencies in the wireless spectrum
- At country level, stakeholders organise themselves in order investigate and make clear recommendations on challenges relating to the affordability and accessibility of the internet within their context. This will enable them to select what realistically can be adopted from regional recommendations.
National Internet Governance Forums
Currently the continent has thirteen National Internet Governance Forums (NIGFs)
- What is also clear is that very few African countries have managed to achieve a multi stakeholder approach in their respective IG processes. In Southern Africa, member states agreed to set up national internet governance forums (IGFs) to facilitate informed dialogue on policy and other related matters between stakeholders on internet development and governance by 30 June 2015. To date only five out of fifteen member states have set up and established NIGFs.
- During the year, African states drew up a draft African Union Declaration on Internet Governance which was presented at the AfIGF-2015 for input by stakeholders. After that the final draft of the document was presented to the Ministers of ICT during the Extra-ordinary meeting of the Specialised Technical Committee on Internet Governance and Cyber-security held in Bamako, Mali in September. The ministers endorsed the documents and now it awaits forwarding to the African Union organs for consideration and adoption.
For a fuller, detailed report visit AfIGF website.