Multistakeholderism… what an alien word to a regulator!
I walked into the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) 2017 with this exact mindset. Working for a regulator gives you false confidence; that you call all the shots, that your decisions are final, that the operators you regulate should either tow the line or change their line of business. We sometimes get so caught up with regulating that we forget the purpose for which we are regulating.
I remember being emphatic during my application for admission to AfriSIG 2017 that I expected to learn how best to regulate internet usage and internet spaces. I was convinced that all challenges in the ICT sector can be resolved by regulation. I was therefore a bit taken aback when my suggestions towards regulation kept getting shot down. The drum beat throughout AfriSIG 2017 was that of multistakeholderism, dialogue and engagements.
AfriSIG draws participants from all sectors. We had people from civil society, from government, private firms and corporations, regulatory authorities, technical experts and many other fields. You learn pretty fast that you are not the most intelligent person in the room and that your ill-informed opinion will be questioned. AfriSIG creates an environment that simulates real-life situations. It’s a place where civil society activists, big corporations and government officials sit around one table and reach a consensus on issues that matter.
The internet is one of the most important issues of our time. There are a lot more transactions being conducted through internet platforms, a lot more broadcasting and definitely, a lot more communication through the internet. There is much more at stake now; internet fraud, cyber harassment, identity theft, illicit/inappropriate content over internet platforms, and many others. The challenges are so many that one entity can’t have all the solutions.
Multistakeholderism is the way to go. Engagement with all stakeholders guarantees that an all-round (or at the very least largely accepted) solution is reached. My favourite part of AfriSIG was engaging with experts on all things internet. Everybody in the room had experience and/or knowledge from which we could draw practical lessons. The participants and the faculty were all open and willing to exchange ideas and viewpoints.
Take-aways from AfriSIG
I came into AfriSIG hell bent on regulating; I left AfriSIG a changed person. Don’t get me wrong, I still advocate for regulation, but before regulation, there should be engagements and dialogue with all stakeholders. I now appreciate that the purpose of regulation is to protect citizens; they should take part in the decisions we make. Multistakeholder regulation is the way to go.
The multistakeholder process is not as easy as we think. It’s a complicated, convoluted process that is still evolving.
Quotable quotes from AfriSIG 2017
"Telecommunications regulators have no business regulating content." (I totally disagree with this!)
"Multistakeholderism is not always easy, people have different personalities and agendas."
"Can men be feminists?"