The East African Internet Governance Forum: Advancing the internet governance debate for meaningful participation

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By Alice Munyua for KICANet

NAIROBI, Kenya, 13 October 2009

An East African broadband policy framework was the topic of discussion at the second East African Internet Governance Forum (EA-IGF)held in Nairobi from September 7-9th 2009. Over 200 participants and observers from fifteen countries representing the private sector, civil society, media, government regulatory authorities, development partners, internet communities, United Nations agencies, consumer networks and academia came together to discuss local internet governance (IG) issues.

The main items of the agenda were cyber-crime, policy regulatory needs consumer issues, critical internet resources, and access to broadband. In each of the thematic sessions, representatives of the five East African countries provided a national perspective on the themes, identifying key issues, progress and challenges, followed by discussion among all EA-IGF 2009 participants around developing recommendations and a way forward on the issues. The inclusion of members of parliament as a key stakeholder group at the EA-IGF was unique to this year’s EA-IGF. Parliamentarians have a role to play in the internet governance dialogue, therefore the aim of the session was to encourage essential contributions by members of parliament to debate.

The EA-IGF, which first convened in 2008, aims at creating a community of practice that will, in the long term, become a sustaining foundation for meaningful participation of East African stakeholders in internet public policy debates at the national, regional and international level. The EA-IGF model allows for the informed participation, contribution and engagement of community members through research, sharing of experiences, skills-sharing, problem-solving and addressing common challenges, and the creation of new knowledge. The forum follows a bottom-up multi-stakeholder approach, which begins at the national level through mailing list discussions in the five East African countries, followed by national face-to-face IGFs, which continue the discussions and debate and go further to validate the issues identified through mailing list discussions and begin to explore recommendations and solutions. The national IGFs then form the building block for the regional East African IGF.

During the 2009 EA-IGF, consensus emerged that access continues to be one of the most important issues for the East African region, especially universal affordable access to broadband, strengthening country code top level domain (ccTLDs) and developing national and regional policy and regulatory frameworks for spectrum management, cybercrime, consumer protection, among others. Forum participants also recommended the development of a regional broadband policy framework to enhance affordable universal access.

The proposal to create an enabling environment for universal affordable access was supported by Kenya’s Permanent Secretary Ministry for Information and Communication Dr. Bitange Ndemo, who noted that “the next billion Internet users would come from Africa. The internet is about enabling access to the world’s information and knowledge in all of its languages. We must therefore ensure that we localise the internet to preserve our cultures and knowledge, and share our knowledge and cultures with the rest of the world” He further added that African governments needed to develop Intellectual Property frameworks that would protect Africa’s rich heritage and resources from theft.

The 2009 EA-IGF recommendations

The forum agreed on the need for the completion and approval of the East African Communication policy, as well as development of policy frameworks covering broadband, spectrum management, cybercrime, consumer protection and Intellectual property.

The need for increased civil society advocacy for better quality of service, universal affordable access, legal framework for consumer issues including codes of conduct was also agreed upon. As well as the provision of transparent and accessible complaint resolution channels as well as promotion of informed consumer choice by providing publication of statistics and information to empower consumer choice.

The critical internet resources session recommended the need to strengthen country ccTLDs, create national and regional data centres, strengthen and protect regional and national internet Exchange Points (IXP) and create awareness on the IPv6- transition.

On cybercrime, there was consensus on the need for setting up of national and regional Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) to coordinate and respond to issues of Cyber security in the region. Participants agreed on the urgent need to begin to address the specific needs of vulnerable groups like women and children and how they are affected by cybercrime.

Forum participants also acknowledged the need to follow up on the issues in a sustainable way, using various activities: encouraging further discussions, advocacy efforts, as well as developing necessary policy frameworks at national and regional levels. Participants also agreed that the issues needed to be presented at the global IGF and perhaps exploring ways in which they could be included and integrated within the IGF.

The Executive Coordinator for the United Nations Internet Governance Forum, Mr. Markus Kummer, noted that while “much of the IGF discussions tended to focus on international factors the development of National and regional IGFs now have an even more important role of informing the global IGF. The International level, he added, cannot work without national agreements and involvement as well as effective participation and commitment of all the stake-holders.

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The EA-IGF is a multi-stakeholder event and is supported by Communicating for influence in central, East and West Africa (CICEWA) which is a collaboration between APC and KICTANet. CICEWA supports the national IGF as a form of advocacy, that are led by APC mmeber KICTANet.

The 2009 EA-IGF was supported by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Kenya’s Ministry for Information and Communication, the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), Kenyan Network information Centre (KENIC), AT&T, the Telecommunication Service Providers Association of Kenya (TESPOK), AFRNIC, Kenya ICT Board, and the Centre for Global Communications (GLOCOM) of the International University of Japan.

For more details contact

Alice Munyua
Convenor
East Africa Internet Governance Forum
E-mail: alice@apc.org
Website: www.eaigf.or.ke

(END/2009)

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