Internet governance schools: Building engagement with the IGF
The 2016 African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) provided a platform for discussion of issues relating to internet governance. The beauty of the school is pegged on the diverse nature of the participants drawn from different countries and from fields that include civil society, academia, the technical community and the government. With mottled experience drawn from different contexts coupled with a mix of dissimilar social and technical backgrounds, participants gear for an explosive learning curve. Through exchanges between participants during the course of the school, they introduced each other to domestic and international policy issues, actors (both state and non-state) and institutions involved in internet governance in various regions both within Africa and internationally.
The commencement of the practicum exercise brought together multistakeholder groups and put them into perspective – in the process, showcasing the shortcomings faced by these groups in achieving consensus in vital issues affecting the development of the internet. Often, expert groups take positions aimed at supporting their strategic agendas and goals with less room given to reach a common ground.
Following AfriSIG, the African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF) highlighted that indeed the multistakeholder process is a basis of Internet Governance Forums. The internet affects and cuts across an array of specialisations, themes and fields; however, many organisations fail to acknowledge that issues affecting the internet, in the long run affect them. This is captured in one of the tweets by one of the AfriSIG participants: “Few organisations have interest in internet governance yet decisions taken affect them”.
All in all, discussions both at AfriSIG and AfIGF pointed to the internet as a catalyst for change, noting that the internet is a platform for access to information and freedom of expression, and a medium for innovation and invention. The emergence of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is one example of inventions possible with the use of the internet. In Africa, internet penetration is still largely low, with most of the users accessing the internet using their mobile phones, as statistics by Research ICT Africa (RIA) clearly showcased. The initiative by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) to develop an internet governance school is a stepping stone towards building capacity in Africa on internet governance and it reaffirms the importance of access of knowledge, information and connectivity as a pillar of human development.
The author is a research and policy associate at the Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies (CHRIPS), Nairobi, Kenya.