Taking the internet governance gospel from Africa to the world

This blog post was originally published on the website of the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG).

The seventh African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG 2019) took place on 3-9 September 2019. With a track record of producing unique cohorts of internet governance specialists for the continent and beyond, it sets itself apart by building synergies and interpersonal professional relationships that transcend beyond borders and limitations.

As is a tradition for the School, it comes up with a post-event recommendation or solution to a nagging challenge, particularly towards solving internet governance challenges, through a rigorous practicum. This year’s practicum was based on the United Nations’ High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation report. It required the fellows at the School to come up with a multi-stakeholder approach that is Africa-focused as feedback for the report.

What stood out for me was the practicum, an annual highlight of the school that gives fellows the opportunity to exercise multi-stakeholder consensus building on a prominent issue. This makes me excited for several reasons. 

First-hand experience on multi-stakeholder negotiations 

This year’s practicum involved a simulation of representatives of civil society, government, the technical community, the business community, academia and observers working together to develop region-focused feedback on the report. Fellows were split into these stakeholder groups and encouraged to choose a group different from the one they usually work with, while facilitators worked as the chair and co-chair for deliberations. This simulation gave a first-hand experience on how negotiations, concessions and deliberations often occur with a multistakeholder approach, especially with respect to internet governance in Africa, and helped to show how other stakeholders often feel during the negotiations on trading interests to achieve the common goal of a consensus agreement. 

My biggest takeaway at the School is how people from different backgrounds were put in new roles to advocate for best interest positions based on their new roles and were able to reach a consensus report. This is so because one of the biggest criticisms of the multi-stakeholder approach is making diverse interests work towards a common goal, and this practicum has made that possible. It helps to understand that, from here on, when working towards a democratic internet governance system, if stakeholders are willing to work together, it is possible.

Together with these great strides, AfriSIG presents Africa with an opportunity to get it right on an area as crucial as internet governance, even though not perfect, given that Africa is often regarded as the continent where everything goes wrong. Also, this presents the region with the advantage of surprise that comes with the place that is least expected to thrive by offering promises for the future that is tethered to digital technologies. 

As a potpourri of both experimental and technical activities, this year’s School offered an opportunity for the continent to engage in the future of internet governance with a diverse and eager cohort of leaders in the internet governance space. Regardless of the background, wealth of experience and even knowledge anyone might have before the School, you come in as an atheist of form and order but leave as a firm believer in a multidimensional internet governance knowledge ready to spread the gospel to the corners of the earth.

The diverse faculty and fellows add colour and vibrancy to the much-needed debates, and not only does everyone feel more challenged, you feel more equipped to speak on internet governance conversations with a more nuanced perspective and vigour. 

At the end of the School, we all leave with the conviction that the imposed epithet of Africa as a “dark continent” is misplaced and disingenuous considering the huge promises that AfriSIG 2019 poses. Rather, it is where the torch of internet governance conversation is lit to be taken to other corners of the world.

For more coverage of AfriSIG 2019, including blog posts from other class of 2019 members, visit the AfriSIG website here.

Tomiwa Ilori is a human rights lawyer and researcher on digital rights. He is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and a researcher with the Centre’s Democracy, Transparency and Digital Rights Unit. Prior to joining the Centre, Tomiwa worked with Paradigm Initiative in Nigeria on research, advocacy and project management. His key research focus is on international human rights law and digital technologies, digital rights, the African human rights system, ICT policy and internet governance.
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