The African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF) was held in Abuja, Nigeria on 10-12 July 2014. This is supposed to be the unifying event of the five regional IGF initiatives in Africa: the West Africa Internet Governance Forum (WAIGF), the East Africa Internet Governance Forum (EAIGF), the Forum de Gouvernance de l’Internet en Afrique Centrale (FGI-CA), and the Southern Africa Internet Governance Forum (SAIGF).
The first day was devoted to pre-conference issues, while the Nigerian Minister of Communication Technology Omobola Johnson provided the keynote address on 11 July. The importance accorded to this AfIGF was underscored by the active participation of the Nigerian federal government minister when she acted as moderator of Track 2 which discussed the CSTD 10-year review of WSIS from an African perspective. The Government of Brazil, which recently hosted the NETmundial Global Stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance (23-24 April 2014), also attended the AfIGF in solidarity with Africa.
For the Fantsuam Foundation members sponsored under the APC Member Exchange and Travel Fund (METF), the high point of our attendance was on the final day of the event, when crucial issues about the operational effectiveness of the AfIGF itself was discussed during the twin tracks on Enhancing Multi-stakeholder Cooperation: The AfIGF – Statutory matters and issues, and session 14 on Finalisation of the Recommendations and Conclusions.
Key issues that were discussed included:
- The structure of the AfIGF and its timeline. The sequence of IGFs in Africa should build up from the national to the regional so that these feed into the continental. In this way it is expected that the collective action and voices at the local level will feed into the regional level so that the continental event will be more inclusive and multi-stakeholder-driven.
- There is a need to develop an advocacy charter for the AfIGF and identify roles for each stakeholder. The regional and national IGFs can then domesticate this and run with it. Score cards can be developed to help to evaluate the IGFs at all the three levels.
- It was observed that the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) countries were not adequately represented at this AfIGF. The AfIGF secretariat, currently housed in UNECA, was requested to ensure better multi-stakeholder presence and dialogue. The secretariat will also fine-tune the structure of the AfIGF ensuring that its protocols and calendar of events are widely disseminated. The AfIGF website was another issue that the secretariat is already working on to make it more user-friendly. The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) offered to host the website if the secretariat would approve.
- As part of the AfIGF protocols it was suggested that members could forward the questions and issues they want addressed ahead of the event into a database on the website. Such issues could then be collated and shared with the various tracks. A progress report on the various issues raised at the previous AfIGF should be presented at the current AfIGF to ensure continuity. A historical mapping of the highlights of decisions and achievements of AfIGF 1, 2 and 3 will help in tracking the progress or otherwise of the continental event.
- Funding remains a thorny issue for the AfIGF, and is partly responsible for the inability to get a wider audience of participants from across the continent. The AfIGF has continued to depend almost entirely on its traditional donors with little contribution from the private sector. In Nigeria, the government is the biggest funder of the Nigerian IGF. It was suggested that the absence of a regulator for the African internet, unlike for the telecom sector, may be responsible for the poor participation of the private sector.
For the Fantsuam Foundation participants, this AfIGF helped to make the IGF process less abstract. It was helpful to rub minds with more knowledgeable participants and get a better insight into the inner workings of the IGF. It was also at this AfIGF that we first heard about the dotAfrica domain and the challenges it has been facing. A representative of the Nigerian government suggested a strategy that will facilitate more proactive engagement with the government. This strategy was an eye opener for us into the way things work inside government. We came away with a better view of how we may be able to engage with the government for other advocacy issues. This AfIGF was also the first time we heard about the FIRE grant programme of AFRINIC, and Fantsuam Foundation is already exploring how to submit a proposal for this grant.