How Applicable is the Multi-stakeholder Approach to Internet Governance in Africa?

By Ashnah Kalemera |
What is the value for Africans in international Internet Governance processes if the approach towards Internet governance on the continent has not fully embraced the multi-stakeholder model? This was among the concerns heard during debates at the 11th Internet Governance Forum (IGF), as some participants questioned the applicability of the global internet governance agenda to Africa.
At a global level, the IGF, an initiative of the United Nations, discusses public policy issues related to the internet. The annual gathering drives best practices and common understanding of how to maximise internet opportunities and address the risks and challenges it faces. At the core of the IGF is the multi-stakeholder approach which aims to bring together individuals, groups or organisations with a stake in the internet to cooperate in advancing policy and practice for its development globally.
This approach is said to be “optimal” in ensuring government, business, civil society and the technical community take part in making policy decisions for the internet that are accountable, sustainable and effective.

Why the multi-stakeholder approach?

  • Decisions impact a wide and distributed range of people and interests,
  • There are overlapping rights and responsibilities across sectors and borders,
  • Different forms of expertise are needed, such as technical expertise, and
  • Legitimacy and acceptance of decisions directly impact implementation.

Internet Governance: Why the Multi-stakeholder Approach Works (Internet Society)

National and regional IGF initiatives (NRI) are similarly conducted to address community needs and involve multiple stakeholders. However, few African stakeholders participate at the global IGF and NRIs, rendering the principles of multi-stakeholderism difficult to achieve.

More than 2,000 participants from 123 countries attended the 2016 IGF held in Mexico. By stakeholder group, civil society constituted the majority (44.5%). Government representation was 20.5% and private sector was 15.5%. By region, Africa had the second lowest regional representation– 6.7%, beating only Eastern Europe from which 2.5% of participants originated.

There are up to 16 national, sub-regional and regional IGFs in Africa. Of the African countries that hosted forums during 2016, most were civil society led with some support from government reported – for instance in Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. However, there was limited participation by the judiciary and law enforcement, youth and the private sector.
Organisers of the Africa Internet Governance Forum (AIGF) and national forums say there is a challenge of multi-stakeholder participation at gatherings on the continent due to lack of political will and limited knowledge and awareness of internet governance issues, among other reasons.
Organisers of the regional AIGF also reported limited representation by policy makers and other government officials. Private sector and youth were reportedly underrepresented at the fifth AIGF held in Durban, South Africa, last October.
According to Olusegun Olugbile who sits on the technical committee of the AIGF and the Nigeria national forum, limited stakeholder participation in national and regional internet governance forums was due to a lack of trust and confidence in the dialogue and ensuing outcomes.
Speaking at the African Union (AU) session at the IGF, Olugbile stated that bringing more stakeholders to the table on internet governance in Africa requires “embracing” policy documents from the continent, such as the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and the African Declaration on Internet Rights –  less so international instruments – so as to ensure contextual understanding of key concerns. This would contribute to a demonstration of value in participation for the stakeholders currently not participating. Furthermore, it would ensure that agendas for debate are localised to suit African needs and follow ups on recommendations are directly linked to the mandate of the relevant stakeholders.
Whereas discussants at the Africa themed sessions also called for more public-private partnership efforts in pursuing the principles of internet governance in Africa, regional bodies such as the AU were also called upon not only to convey outcomes to governments but to actively advocate and “push” for the implementation of recommendations from the AIGF among member states.
Meanwhile, the Africa School of Internet Governance (AfriSIG), which started in 2013 was commended for its role in bridging the internet governance knowledge and skills gap on the continent. To-date, the school has graduated over 150 individuals from government, the private sector and civil society across Africa in the principles and procedures of internet governance. Continued capacity building efforts by the school and other practitioners were recommended.
The 2016 IGF was convened under the theme ‘Enabling Inclusive and Sustainable Growth” from December 6–9, 2016 in Jalisco, Mexico.

Civil Society’s Proposals on The African Cybersecurity Convention

In December 2013, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) led online discussions on the proposed African Union Convention on Cyber Security (AUCC). The convention establishes a framework for cyber security in Africa “through organisation of electronic transactions, protection of personal data, promotion of cyber security, e-governance and combating cybercrime.”
Civil society and academia have raised concerns about some of the articles in the convention, which had earlier been expected to be signed in January 2014. Latest reports indicate that, at the earliest, the law could be signed in June this year.
The report on the discussions will be used by KICTANet and partners such as CIPESA to create awareness and lobby African governments to pass legislation and instruments that fully support the privacy of individuals and the fully enjoyment of their freedom of expression online.
The stated background to the convention is that the African Union is seeking ways to intensify the fight against cybercrime across the continent“in light of the increase in cybercrime, and the lack of mastery of security risks by African countries.”
Furthermore, the AU states that a major challenge for African countries is the lack of adequate technological security to prevent and effectively control technological and informational risks. As such, it adds, “African States are in dire need of innovative criminal policy strategies that embody States, societal and technical responses to create a credible legal climate for cyber security”.
The intentions may be legitimate but, as noted by the online discussions, some of the articles in the current version of the convention could be used to negate individuals’ privacy and their right to express themselves through online mediums.
Take, for example, Article III – 34. It states that AU member states have to “take necessary legislative or regulatory measures to set up as a penal offense the fact of creating, downloading, disseminating or circulating in whatsoever form, written matters, messages, photographs, drawings or any other presentation of ideas or theories of racist or xenophobic nature using an a computer system.”
How does this clause balance with the fundamental right to freedom of expression? Experts argue that this clause is problematic as it requires a measure of truth, which is hard to actually legislate or determine owing to the relativity of truth. They add that this sort of law would likely be unenforceable.
The discussion noted that although African countries needed legal framework on cybercrime, the current proposals need numerous amendments. The discussions also noted a need for the African Union Commission to engage with civil society to draw up progressive and enforceable laws. However, civil society had the added task of creating awareness and capacity among citizens on cyber security and the need to uphold freedoms of expression online.
These discussions were conducted on multiple lists of KICTANet and the Internet Society (ISOC) Kenya and on the I-Network and ISOC Uganda ists moderated  by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), from 25 – 29, November 2013. They were also shared through numerous pan-Africa and global lists on ICT policy and online freedom.
Download the full discussions report here.