AfriSIG, the school for internet techies who want to learn policy

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

The African School on Internet Governance (AFRISIG) 2019 ran for six days in  N’Djamena, Chad. It is a yearly event that brings together people from across the continent to promote and strengthen active multistakeholder participation in internet governance in the African continent.

As a technical person, I found the week-long school essential to having a good understanding of the governance side of the internet, which is different from running networks or conducting research on them. Topics related to digital rights, affordable internet access, internet history in Africa, sustainability, internet-related human rights, women and minorities’ participation, etc., were all covered, in addition to a number of other panel discussions and lectures.

The event was an eye-opener for me, as it helped me realise, among other things, that there is a need for people on the technical side of the internet to get involved in its governance through the UN’s Internet Governance Forum and other internet bodies. The organisers of the event emphasised the need for techies to get more involved in the policy and governance aspects. It happened in the past that policy makers came up with decisions that were technically not possible to implement simply because the technical community was not involved in the decision-making process.

The practicum aspect of the school this year was based on digital cooperation and inclusion, and involved reviewing a 2019 UN report titled ”The age of digital interdependence”. It is a comprehensive report on digital cooperation, and one of its key recommendations is “that by 2030, every adult should have affordable access to digital networks, as well as digitally-enabled financial and health services, as a means to make a substantial contribution to achieving the SDGs.” The task was to draft a multistakeholder consensus response to the call for input on the UN report.

The most interesting aspect of the practicum was the process towards reaching a consensus on the draft. We were grouped into four clusters – business, technical, government and civil society – and were expected to protect the interests of the cluster that we represent in reviewing the UN report used for the practicum. The different clusters were then asked to come together and present a common position, which involved going back and forth on a position, a paragraph or even a word that a cluster felt was against its interest. We spent hours negotiating positions and perspectives and stayed late into nights persuading other groups to see things our way. We learned to compromise on our stands and come to the middle for things to move forward. It was really an unforgettable experience.

AFRISIG is a good event for professionals in all internet-related fields - civil society, cybersecurity lawyers, academia, regulators, government, business, etc. The school holds annually around the months of August and September and I highly recommend following it on its different platforms to know when the next call for application opens. You could qualify for all-expense paid trip as a fellow.

Musab Isah is a research engineer with the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC) Mauritius. He is responsible for planning and delivering AFRINIC research projects as well as collaborative projects with external organisations. He drives the research team’s outputs from conceptualisation to delivery and develops statistical models to uncover insights from mashups of real-world big data, internet measurements, survey data, etc.
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