Shortly after this year’s African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) was held, the 5th African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF) took place from 16 to 18 October at the Durban International Convention Centre. The South African government was the host government for the AfIGF, and arguably this year the government of South Africa has made significant strides in participating in multistakeholder settings in relation to internet governance locally and regionally. Prior to AfriSIG and the AfIGF, South Africa had its second national Internet Governance Forum, which was for the first time supported and endorsed by the South African government.
While at AfriSIG and at the AfIGF, APCNews was able to interact with the director of the Internet Governance ICT Infrastructure Support, Ms. Palesa Legoze, who shared her thoughts and reflections on the internet governance landscape both in South Africa and in Africa as a whole. In a brief interview with her, we touched on the key role that Africa has to play in internet governance.
As to whether internet governance is becoming a key area of focus for South Africa, Legoze responded, “I think it has always been a key focus area. If you look back during the first and second phases of WSIS (the World Summit on the Information Society) we were very active participants. So, I think we have always been involved, but at times you take a short detour. The internet is critical, it’s a tool for socioeconomic development, and when you look at the Sustainable Development Goals it cuts across all of them, so the governance of it is critical. Because we cannot keep saying this is a tool for development but we have no say in its administration and management.”
At the same time, Legoze stressed the need for Africa to speak with one voice on issues pertaining to internet governance. “It’s important that we speak with one voice, because when we speak with one voice then we have more power. Because if we speak as South Africa we cannot really negotiate that much, but if 54 countries come together with the backing of the citizens, then it means it’s a massive market when you look at the internet and all of that. People will have to take notice,” she explained.
“The reason why we are where we are is because there is no coordinated, coherent or cohesive African voice when we talk about internet governance. Perhaps we need a better understanding, especially the people who are in leadership positions, to understand the impact of the internet and internet governance, she added.
Legoze also stressed the importance of a multistakeholder framework for internet governance. “I always quote the [South African] constitution when we talk multistakeholderism, that as government we promote engagement,” she said. “When you look at South African law, there’s nothing that you can do without consultation. If we formulate legislation it has to go through public consultation, because if we get to cabinet they will ask, ‘Who did you consult?’ So, we are a country that promotes that, it’s important for people to have a say in what ultimately impacts their lives.”
When it comes to multistakeholderism in the global context, however, Legoze noted that it is difficult to identify stakeholder groups: “You don’t know who you are talking to.”
Her apprehension of the multistakeholder process also stems from issues of accountability and leadership (or lack thereof) in the multistakeholder setting. “There are no equal voices in multistakeholderism,” she noted. “Someone has to take ultimate responsibility and accountability of whatever happens… who takes responsibility for those decisions?”
She further cautioned against Africa joining the bandwagon, saying, “We cannot just join a choir when everybody sings ‘multilateralism is wrong’. We should also think about why it is that some people are against some of these things. Because when you talk multilateralism you talk governments and equal voices, and when you talk multistakeholderism it’s about how much money you have. Just because the world is saying this, doesn’t mean it should be done.” Instead, she said, “One should look at their situation and determine what works bests for their context.”
To emphasise her point, Legoze used the example of the proposal of recognising the internet as a human right. “If we were to adopt that as South Africa, it would have cost implications for us.” South Africa’s situation is very different from that of countries where there are already high levels of connectivity. “We have to look at what basic needs there are in a country like ours – we have people who go to bed hungry, people who don’t have water and the like, and then you say the internet is a human right? I know it’s a tool for socioeconomic development, but practically, it is not a solution at the moment for countries like South Africa,” she concluded.