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anna kuthan
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« on: April 16 2007 »

04/05/2007 APCNews

 ATHENS, Greece -- ďIn a nutshell, Africa needs to be concerned about developing internet usage first, rather than dwelling on who governs the internet and how,Ē claimed the African non-governmental organisation CIPESA in a research paper published right before the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which took place in Athens at the end of 2006. With eye kept on the upcoming IGF II in November, APCNews discussed this underrepresented approach to internet governance with Vincent Bagiire of CIPESA.

APCNews: What has been your involvement in the internet governance process?

Right from WSIS II [the second phase of the UN World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis in 2005] we realised that internet governance was key on the agenda. So we took the initiative to do some research on this, specifically on the bodies that were in charge: ICANN and the regional body for internet registry AfriNIC. So we prepared a document that would demystify and explain to the masses what internet governance is all about and what it means for Africa. Thereafter CIPESA participated in preparatory meetings in Malta leading up to the IGF and in the actual Internet Governance Forum [IGF] in Athens. We prepared a document questioning whether the IGF was what Africa needed or rather an Internet Development Forum, as opposed to governance.

APCNews: And that was the reaction that you got?

When we prepared this paper -ďInternet Governance Forum or Internet Development Forum:  What is best for Africa?Ē- we got quite some responses: it woke people up. The argument was that the nature in which the internet is today does not prohibit anyone from Africa from participating in using it. So you have no reason for why the focus should be on governance of the internet infrastructure, because as it is today you can do anything you need with the internet. We wanted to divert the attention from governance issues, especially within Africa, so that the concentration goes on the development of the internet. This means supporting infrastructure to allow masses to be able to access the internet, to have content that is relevant to them, and to allow governments and other institutions to put the infrastructure and deal with issues related to affordability. The reactions that we had were mostly from civil society. This was largely because civil society has been very active as far as international ICT policy issues are concerned.

APCNews: Do you think that this paper that you produced was listened to?

I think it was. When we published the paper, I was immediately invited to be on the IGF panel where issues related to access were discussed. So the organisers felt that it was widely circulated at the international and regional level, and in various countries. Based on that, CIPESA was invited, with the assistance of APC, to be on one of the panels.

APCNews: What were the lessons learned after Athens?

To be honest, when you have so many players, different participants have different interests. There are countries that definitely want to be part of the governance over the internet infrastructure, and there are those that donít care about who manages it, provided they can use it. So, the lesson is that there needs to be redefinition of the IGF, towards Rio [where the next meeting of the IGF will be held Ė November 2007]. Someone has to sit down and see what the interests from the various stakeholders are, and then organise it along those lines. Otherwise it risks being one of those annual events of which nothing concrete comes out.

APCNews: What do you think of this multi-stakeholder approach?

I think we need to realise that the private sector, especially in Africa, has not been very involved on these international issues. For instance, you will not find MTN [Mobile Telephone Networks] actively participating in WSIS or at the IGF. These are large, corporate private sector institutions in Africa; if they arenít there, you canít expect to have so much input from them.

When you come and look at governments, they are still struggling with issues related to information and communication technologies (ICTs). The fact that many national ICT policies in so many countries are not becoming law is scary. A few have problems coming to terms with the entire idea of ICT for development, and what the international ICT policy spaces are, such as the IGF.

APCNews: Do you think that it will be useful to spend more time in regional forums?

Exactly. I think this was the spirit in which the IGF was created. There has to be national internet governance forums, and then regional, which will feed into the major IGF. And I think that this makes concrete sense, because youíre not going to mix issues. You have to acknowledge that there are different levels. If you look at statistics from International Telecommunication Union (ITU), most of the African countries have ten [or even less] internet users for every one hundred people, and youíre mixing them with the Europeans, whoíve got 60 users out of one hundred people. So you can see that itís really discouraging: the debate is not going to be very focused.

It is important that you see what it is that Africa needs, because it is unfair to make the African governments sit in on a discussion to manage internet infrastructure. They donít even have the ability to consume internet services.

APCNews: Which are the next steps for Rio?

I think itís important to participate but what is most important is to prepare African participants to keep focused in their debates, as opposed to be very visionary. Whether Africa becomes part of the governance of the internet, it will not increase access, it will not increase usage. There are more fundamental issues that need to be done prior to thinking about the actual governance of the internet.

APCNews: What are your plans for this kind of preparation?

We would like to write some more papers and make our position clear. That will come out of research. We would like to ensure that capacity is used for people to understand what issues we should concentrate on, for people to appreciate why it is important to focus on the development of the internet in Africa, as opposed to the governance.

source: http://www.apc.org/english/news/index.shtml?x=5059315
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