Olivia Martin contributed to this post.
As shown in the 2013 African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF) Report, African participation in major Internet governance discussions is extremely lacking. In 2013, only 29 out of 54 African countries sent representatives to the AfIGF. Of these 29 countries physically present, there were 195 participants, including government officials, representatives from the private sector, civil society, and regional and international organizations.
What does this underrepresentation mean? Do African stakeholders fail to take these discussions seriously or are they are ill-equipped to engage in the various internet governance discussions?
This is the third in a series of blog posts that analyze common positions and divergence in views in contributions from African stakeholders to the major international internet governance discussions. Specifically in this post, the focus will be on African participation in Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
CWG-Internet has the mandate to identify, study, and develop matters related to specific international internet-related public policy issues . An ongoing issue CWG-Internet has sought to address is the question of the role of governments in internet governance. This issue is at the core of a questionnaire sent to all ITU member states on behalf of CWG-Internet on November 22, 2013.
The questionnaire was intended to launch a consultation among governments on their role in the internet-related public policy issues covered in Resolution 1305, the results of which were discussed at its March session. Among the 193 ITU member states that received the questionnaire, 54 were African governments. Responses included specific examples of actions to address internet policy issues as well as opinions on the general nature of the role of governments in internet governance and of the 37 Member States that responded, six were from Africa: Botswana, Mauritius, Morocco, Rwanda, Sudan and Zambia.
Of the twelve topics covered in the consultation, we found that most of the submissions focused on the following topics: international internet connectivity; international public policy issues pertaining to the internet and the management of internet resources; the security, safety, continuity, sustainability, and robustness of the internet; combating cybercrime; and protecting children and young people from abuse and exploitation.
The role of governments in the global governance of the internet
Perhaps more revealing than the 12 issue areas that the questionnaire specifically addressed were responses addressing the global governance of the internet. For example, Sudan’s response challenges the multistakeholder, bottom up model that has been the hallmark of internet governance. Sudan asserted that governments have not been able to actualize their role in internet governance under the current framework because the mechanism for “enhanced cooperation” has never been established.
While other African submissions do not address this issue in this particular consultation, it is important to note that Sudan’s position contradicts that of the 21 African governments as articulated in the 2005 African Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Ministers Common Position on Internet Governance. These 21 African governments, together with almost 30 institutions from the region, committed to:
“1. The establishment of a global consultation framework to review in depth the general policies on Internet Governance. Such a framework should authorise equal participation for all stakeholders (Government, the private sector, civil society, and international organisations). 2. The expansion and reinforcement of the existing institutions for Internet Governance to enable all stakeholders to participate and ensure Internet Governance is efficient, accountable, and democratic, and that Internet services and resources are distributed in an equitable manner among all actors and all continents.”
In comparing responses from African governments on the issue of multistakeholderism to those coming from other regions in the world, one can note that African submissions are generally supportive of a multistakeholder approach to internet governance, and acknowledge the UN Internet Governance Forum. In contrast, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, did not recognize the IGF or the inclusion of other stakeholders. Instead, they recommended that governments “Name or create an entity within the UN system to enable governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet, but not in the day-to-day technical and operational matters that do not impact on international public policy issues”.
In this consultation, India took a more middle ground approach, asserting that “Governments should be represented in decision-making forums but they would undertake consultations at their respective national levels with all stakeholders including private industry, civil society, academia and the technical community while formulating their positions.”
Levels of participation
Samantha Dickinson, who attended the recent CWG-Internet meeting as a member of the Australian delegation but blogs in her personal capacity asks:
“Is CWG-Internet terminally ill or temporarily comatose?…There were very few representatives from the Member States that would very much benefit from experience sharing with other States on how to help support Internet development within their borders. In particular, there were only one or two Member States from the African region, and apart from India, none of the developing States from the Asia Pacific region. Latin American and the Caribbean was also poorly represented (Paraguay was present)…..Is the lack of participation by others a sign of the lack of relevance of the CWG-Internet to their real world needs? Or is the lack of participation a sign of resource constraints preventing developing countries from attending the meeting?”
It is also interesting to note that while the number of African governments contributing to this consultation was relatively low, only one African government made a contribution to NetMundial, which may indicate that African governments view the ITU, an intergovernmental body, as a more valuable process to engage in.
It is also notable that African governments did not play an active role, either in the last ITU-CWG meeting or NetMundial, despite the discussions on several key issues for Africa at both fora. Perhaps this is a result of the mushrooming of internet policy related meetings in recent years.
Parts one and two of this series on analysis of common positions and differences in contributions from African stakeholders to the major international internet governance discussions is available here and here.
This article was originally published on Ephraim’s professional page on Access Now.