Internet Governance Forum: “We want laws that will take us forward”

By Sylvie Niombo Publisher: APCNews     Douala,

When a participant asked a question about the position to be adopted by Central Africa at the Internet overnance Forum (IGF) in Africa, various responses and questions followed. To borrow an expression from Justine Diffo Tchunkam, a teacher at the University of Yaoundé II, Central Africa has a common vision but no common position with regard to regulation of the ICT sector.

The debate on regulation of the ICT sector in the African sub-region is currently at the point where Cameroon and Congo have made progress on legislative reforms relating to electronic communications and discussion has started in other countries such as the Central African Republic and Chad, where laws dating back to 2007 and 2008 are still in effect.

There are over two billion internet users in the region, which shows the internet to be an indispensable tool for strengthening the economy and improving the standard of living of populations, provided there is no abuse.

Current legislative reforms in the ICT sector

The Inspector General for the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in Cameroon stated that “Cameroon has 20 million inhabitants but only one million inhabitants using the internet. There are two landing points for undersea fibre optic cables. A restructuring process to expand and enhance use of the backbone is currently under way.”

Liberalisation of the telecommunications sector in several countries in the sub-region has resulted in a growth of mobile telephone operators, internet access suppliers and others. However, it has also led to increased ICT penetration within the population. Certain countries like Cameroon have developed national ICT development strategy documents to direct their policy in this area.

Speaking on the subject, Aline Mbono, a lawyer at ANTIC (Agence National des Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication [National Agency for Information and Communication Technologies]), stated that Cameroon is a leader in the subregion with regard to regulatory reforms in the ICT sector, with two laws on cybersecurity (Law 2010/10/2012), cybercrime (Law 2010/10/103) and electronic communications adopted in 2010. These reforms are notably a result of the impetus created by the
Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) with regard to harmonisation of the legal framework for ICTs in the subregion.

In answer to our question about the effective implementation of these two laws and perceptible changes for Cameroonian citizens, Aline Mbondo responded positively saying: “These laws have been implemented in Cameroon. For users, the changes are perceptible with regard to cybersecurity as there has been a decrease in some practices such as online posting of content of a dubious moral nature. From now on, a content editor (content storer) is, moreover, obligated to respond to content posted online, even if he is not the author.

Since 2010, Cameroon has required mobile telephone operators to identify their users. “It is thus possible to find a cybercriminal, and operators store their data on users for 10 years,” she added.

Broaching the issue of companies, she specified that “auditing of information systems was not regulated in Cameroon; under the new law, all companies with interconnected systems such as internet service providers, telecom network operators and banks will be audited.”

Participants were informed about the ICT regulatory framework in Niger, presented by Iro Adamo, Coordinator of the Réseau francophone des jurists en TIC [Network of French-speaking lawyers specialised in ICT]. He spoke about training on ICT laws for students, revision of the penal code and penal procedures.

He emphasized the involvement of copyright offices, who are subject to piracy, and telecommunications operators, who are either the authors or part of the solution, in the development of these laws on cybersecurity, especially with regard to issues relating to the traceability of information and calls.

“We want laws that will take us forward “

All Central African countries are familiar with development problems; however, development can only accelerate if there is harmonisation of subregional, regional and international standards, policies and legislation.

The need to harmonise laws in the ICT sector is clearly apparent, but slow to happen. Moreover, participants such as Pierre Chekem, a civil society activist, reminded us that “we need to create a synergy in the community with regard to the law: several laws are established without implementing decrees. If we wish to be of service to society, these laws must be accompanied by implementing decrees”. He emphasized that “we want a law that will enable us to move forward – and not come back every three years to proofread!”

However, it should be noted that although Parliament decides to pass laws, the implementing decrees are established either by the President of the Republic or by the ministers.

Other participants also complained about what is referred to as “Control C”, a sort of “copy-paste” of laws in effect in France. They have called for multi-party legislative reform processes. Some have gone further by asking “how many of our members of parliament have email addresses considering that they are supposed to vote on these laws?” Hence the need to involve all stakeholders in the development process.

Responding to the question, Aline Mbono means to be reassuring. The process of drafting these two Cameroonian laws was, according to her, a multi-stakeholder process with the participation of experts from government, civil society and the private sector.

Certainly, many weaknesses have been exposed for the subregion. However, there has been progress with regard to regulation which must be consolidated, and countries such as Cameroon and Congo, which have adopted new laws on electronic communications, should share their experiences with other countries.

Sylvie Niombo is the General Manager of the AZUR Dévelopement association in the Republic of Congo.

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