This blog post was originally published on the website of the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG).
When you think of internet governance, you think emerging technologies, Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), young, evolving, borderless. You imagine a room, filled with a plethora of ideas, industry leaders, government representatives, youth, civil society and academics. You, in essence, envisage the 8th African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF). This year themed “Shared Responsibilities of Stakeholders for a Robust Ecosystem of Internet Governance”, the AfIGF commenced with the inauguration of the African Youth Internet Governance Forum (AYIGF), which is basically a personification of the African continent: youthful, growing and cooperative. It is this backdrop that saw issues topical to the African continent, such as linguistic barriers, access to the internet, digital cooperation and emerging technologies for sustainable growth, being traversed in parallel panel discussions, at the main events and even in corridors with coffee in hand.
You see, the AfIGF is an opportunity for various stakeholders to come together and navigate internet governance-related issues affecting all 54 nations that call Africa home. As we say in Africa, “It takes a village.” It is a forum for Africa to examine and decide on the key issues to be addressed nationally, regionally and globally. It is a forum where 54 nations develop one agenda, one voice.
The “Internet of Everything” has resulted in the digital interdependence of individuals both virtually and in real life. This is a result of the interoperable nature of emerging technologies. Consequently, the division between industries, governments and issues topical for citizens (such as access to the internet, protection of consumer data, e-transactions and governance of online content) has become blurred. Therefore, it is important now more than ever for African nations, as diversely interesting as they are, to congregate, identify and discuss issues of common interest. To that end, it was encouraging to note the topics that were tabled for discussion at the AfIGF. Moreover, the presence of the AYIGF on the various panels and discussion of the topics that affect African Youth – such as the impact that digitisation has had on job security and employment – was a welcome and important step in Africa’s governance of the internet.
However, fora such as the AfIGF have been labelled “talk shops”, without any ability to produce tangible outcomes. It is imperative to note the impact that AfIGF has in facilitating ideas and lobbying for agendas that would otherwise remain at national level, if addressed at all. The multistakeholder model affords the AfIGF an opportunity to engage a variety of topics and issues that affect and impact citizens, governments, the private sector and end-users of the internet at their various levels. It is not just a talk shop, it is an opportunity to listen and to be heard, and to continue the discussion within the various stakeholder groups, nationally, regionally and globally. It is only after talking that ideas can be implemented into actionable points and realized.
“Wisdom is like fire. People take it from others.” – Hema (DRC) Proverb.