By Lillian Nalwoga.
With the internet projected to reach almost 20 per cent of the Africa population in 2014, it becomes important to discuss modalities under which it should remain an open and reliable tool for development. It is with this background that Africa Internet stakeholders gathered in Abuja, Nigeria, July 10 -14, 2014 to deliberate on key internet governance issues affecting the continent. The main theme for this year’s meeting was “connecting continents for enhanced multi-stakeholder internet governance.”

Although this years’ meeting had diverse themes, major discussions focused around promoting local content and improving access to internet in Africa. In a presentation by Victoria Okojie, Registrar/CEO at Librarians’ Registration Council of Nigeria (LRCN), she mentioned that one of the key issues for Africa is the creation and uploading of local content on the internet. According to her, Africa is currently producing only about 2% – 3% of content in online journals. Yet with a population of over 1 billion and over 2000 languages, Africa has a potential to produce 17% – 18% of global content published online. It is therefore becomes very critical for Africa to start paying attention to developing use of local languages on the Internet.

However to achieve this, challenges such as low bandwidth supply, erratic electric power supply, low level of capacity in terms of ICT skills and competences, low Information literacy level amongst internet users, censorship, cybercrime, lack of copyright laws among others are still hindering internet access and local content generation in Africa.

Improving access to ICTs and internet in particular through use of public libraries as public access points was one of the suggested ways to improving access to internet and promoting local content in Africa. Additionally, just as technology evolves, so should the adoption of policies that support local content development and re-use – noted, Titi Akinsanmi, the Policy and Government Relations Manager at Google Africa.

In other discussions, participants sought to understand Africa’s involvement in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) intent to transition stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function to the global multi-stakeholder community. To this, Sunday Folayan, a Board Member at African Network Information Center (AFRINIC) announced that Adiel Akplogan,CEO AFRINIC had been selected by Number Resource Organisation (NRO) a representative of the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) to serve on the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG).

Major emerging issues in the IG arena presented were – the massive surveillance through data collection and data mining of personal communications; liability verses protection of Internet intermediaries; information literacy and ethics; among others.

Nonetheless, some of these issues are being addressed by initiatives such as the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, an initiative led by civil society organisations that aims at enabling and empowering internet, which truly serves the needs of African citizens. The declaration will be launched at the Global Internet Governance Forum, September 2- 5, 2014.

The other initiative, is led by the Africa Union – the African Union Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection, 2014 and aims at establishing a legal framework for Cybersecurity and Data Protection in Africa while building on the existing commitments of African Union Member States at sub-regional, regional and international levels to build the Information Society in Africa.

However, one notable observation at this year’s AfIGF was the absence of discussions originating from both national and sub-regional IGFs. Only a handful of countries had held national forums and no sub-regional forums had taken place at the time of this year’s meeting. Ideally these forums need to be feeding into the continental forum. Hence the need for the adoption of a bottom-up approach in addressing IG concerns on the continent as a way of creating sustainable IG debates both at the national and sub-regional levels.

Another observation was the absence of private sector and businesses participation in the meeting -including those from the host country and region. Yet, as internet access in Africa continues to grow especially mobile internet, these voices are critical in determining the future internet landscape in Africa. Thus the need to develop support multi-stakeholder alliances when discussing internet governance in the region needs to be adopted.

Apart from these shortfalls, the Africa IGF provides a wonderful opportunity for Africa to deliberate on IG issues on the continent, where outcomes can further be adopted at the sub-regional and national levels. Thus there is need to strengthen the functionality of AfIGF secretariat by increasing its engagement with different national and sub-regional IGFS. Most communication from the secretariat is made during the preparations to the annual meeting, this should however be continuous. Further, an urgent call to develop a dedicated forum portal is required to have centralised access to IG information on the continent.

The 3rd Africa IGF was hosted by the Ministry of Communication Technology, Nigeria under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), with support from the Africa Union, National Information Technology Development Agency, Nigeria, Nigerian Communications Commission, Nigeria Internet Governance Forum (NIGF), Google, and the Winrock Nigeria Limited.

CIPESA’s participation in this year’s Africa IGF was made possible under the Association For Progressive Communication (APC) Membership and Travel Fund.

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