Trusting our net
Shawna Finnegan (SF): Shall we start with a brief introduction? Emilar, could you tell a little about yourself, what your experience is with internet governance, and about some of your work at the Association for Progressive Communications (APC)?
Emilar Vushe (EV): I am based in South Africa and I work in the policy programme leading the work in Africa. Some of the initiatives that we are working on in Africa include the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, and the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG). We are also involved in national and regional Internet Governance Forums (IGF) as APC or through our members. The 2015 IGF was the fifth IGF that I participated in. The experience is never the same. I met new people, I had new experiences and I had an opportunity to talk about the work we are doing at APC. It was a different experience altogether when I attended my first IGF in 2010 – the Tunis Agenda, the WGIG, NomCom – I nearly pulled out my eyelashes!
SF: Oh, I know that feeling! I still don’t know exactly what the NomCom does. Since your first IGF in 2010, you have been actively involved in developing and co-organising national and regional IGFs in Africa. What have you learned from working with different stakeholders in these spaces? You are participating in the Southern African IGF in Harare?
EV: Yes, I am. The Southern African IGF is still young so we are still finding our feet in terms of the issues to discuss, how to discuss them and why? We are also still in the phase where we are negotiating our space in the multistakeholder approach to IG. The first Southern African IGF was held in 2011 in Johannesburg.
To achieve tangible outcomes in the multistakeholder internet governance space it requires a respectful and informed balance of interests among all stakeholders
The multistakeholder model of internet governance requires the substantive participation of all relevant stakeholders. As civil society we recognise the important role, perspective and contributions our governments bring to these discussions. Engaging our governments in internet policy discussions is important to ensure informed policy making and decisions by stakeholders. But for us to achieve tangible outcomes in the multistakeholder internet governance space it requires a respectful and informed balance of interests among all stakeholders.
We do have a number of national and regional initiatives – and these are important as they give national and regional stakeholders an opportunity to discuss internet governance issues from a national and regional perspective – and this assists discussions at international level. For example at this year’s African IGF, APC and other organisations organised a pre-event focusing on the WSIS+10 non paper.
EV: Shawna, please introduce yourself, and your experience with internet governance?
SF: Internet governance was a completely new concept to me when I started working with APC four years ago, and it took me a long time to start to understand some of the complexities of how the internet is governed at different levels. Diagrams have definitely helped.
There is so much jargon, and acronyms. That is a real barrier for people who are new to these issues.
The first time that I participated in a forum on internet governance was the 2012 IGF in Baku. I remember that APC co-organised a pre-event on enhanced cooperation that I really struggled to grasp. In part because there is so much jargon, and acronyms. That is a real barrier for people who are new to these issues.
EV: Beyond the jargon and acronyms, there are still many barriers especially for people coming from developing countries. There are budgetary constraints, visa challenges and a general lack of meaningful participation.
In 2013, APC working with NEPAD organised the first AfriSIG to curb some of these challenges. The AfriSIG helps bring new voices to internet governance debates and enrich the quality of internet governance discussions in regions where governments tend to dominate the discussion.
We target key stakeholders involved in internet development and policy-making aiming to increase their knowledge and confidence to engage actively in internet governance at national, regional and global levels. It was heartwarming to see a number of AfriSIG alumni actively participating at the global IGF in Brazil raising a number of issues concerning Africa such as gender and IG, net neutrality among others.
SF: Why do you think it important to participate in a forum such as the IGF?
The national IGFs are especially important because they provide an opportunity for lawmakers and governments to gain valuable insights before making and implementing laws concerning the internet.
EV: Some people I encounter refer to the IGF as a “talkshow” that does not bring any benefits. I completely disagree. The national and regional IGFs that I have already mentioned are concrete outcomes of the IGF and they do echo its multi-stakeholder format. Whether it is on an equal footing or not is another story but in some countries the national IGFs are bringing together stakeholders that would have otherwise not have engaged or have a proper dialogue. The national IGFs are especially important because they provide an opportunity for lawmakers and governments to gain valuable insights before making and implementing laws concerning the internet. A few months ago I participated in an internet governance initiative in Zimbabwe – it was like watching democracy in action as participants spoke directly to senior government officials and asked questions related to the new ICT policy. National IGFs create a space for people to meet with their government representatives, which is something that might otherwise not be available.
SF: What were the highlights of the global IGF 2015 for you? How do you see the IGF contributing to a more rights-based approach to governance of the internet?
EV: I participated in a capacity building workshop organised by the Deutshe Welle Akademie and iRightsLab. The workshop consisted of newbies to the internet governance space. Having new people at the table was a breath of fresh air. I absorbed all their new new knowledge, curiosity and enthusiasm. The organisers of the workshop also organised top notch speakers who walked us through topical issues such as privacy, zero rating, net neutrality and the significance of these.
The APC party rocked and this year was very significant because we were celebrating 25 years of networking for social justice. I was in awe listening to some of the people who were there when APC started – their vision of an open internet. It is an honour to work towards that vision, albeit in small way.
I also enjoyed participating in workshops focusing on the African Declaration on Internet Rights where the core issue was while declarations are important – implementation is key. For many Africans, many barriers still exist including limited infrastructure, limited access to electricity for most of the population and widespread poverty.
For IGF to contribute significantly, there is a need to strengthen national and regional initiatives.
Yes, the IGF is contributing to the development of internet governance. However, for IGF to contribute significantly, there is a need to strengthen national and regional initiatives. There is a need to strengthen their engagement with the Best Practice Forums and encourage national/regional IGFs participation in intersessional work.
The internet is a powerful platform for expression and the exchange of knowledge and information, which supports economic and social and cultural rights and development. For the internet to play this role there is a need for effective internet -related policies to improve economic development and growth. Shawna, is this also the case for developed countries?
SF: Yes, I think you are so right about the need for more effective internet-related policies to support economic, social and cultural rights. During Nadine Moawad’s speech at the closing ceremony of the IGF, I was really struck by the story about Nadz’ mother, who started using the internet because she learned that she could create a virtual farm, but is not interested in using the internet for information, because she doesn’t trust it. Nadz’ mother has a lot of information that she could share, and content that she could produce, but when we talk about access, we don’t think of Nadz’ mother as a content creator, we don’t give her agency. How can we support economic, social and cultural rights, when internet policies are developed that disempower new users?
EV: This was your second year participating remotely in the IGF. How was the experience for you? Were there challenges? How can the experience be improved?
SF: I think connectivity is always a challenge with remote participation. Whether it is my connection, or the connection on-site at the IGF, there will inevitably be moments where we disconnect. Sometimes remote participants can follow the transcript, or watch a delayed webcast, but we won’t be able to access the WebEx platform, which might allow us to actually interact with the discussion directly, through the remote moderators.
There was a session on remote participation at the IGF this year, which I was invited to participate in by another remote participant, Ruth Hennell, who really try very hard to connect the various remote participants, contribute to the twitter feed, and suggest ways that the IGF could improve remote participation. She also participated in the 2014 IGF, and suggested that workshops include projects of the hashtag Twitter feed, to allow remote participants to participate in an ongoing discussion, in real time. This is not possible with WebEx and a remote moderator. These are gatekeepers, where a Twitter hashtag is open.
I would prefer sessions that were specifically created to discuss difficult questions, where participants could start in small groups. Remote participants could create their own group.
I think that remote participation could be improved by changing the format of some of the workshops. Panels often do not give enough space for meaningful discussion among participants. Sometimes it feels as though each panel has come to say their piece, but is not really interested in having difficult conversations about complex issues. I would prefer sessions that were specifically created to discuss difficult questions, where participants could start in small groups. Remote participants could create their own group.
SF: Emilar, in your opinion what do you think is the biggest internet governance issue right now?
EV: This is a difficult question! It is difficult to rank the issues. However, I think access is still the biggest issue. The challenge that many Africans face is getting affordable access to the internet, and maintaining access once they have it – access that comes with sufficient freedom and protection of fundamental human rights that allows people working for more open, just and democratic societies to be able to use the internet safely, effectively and creatively.
Public access has fallen off the agenda of many countries and when we talk of “connecting the next billion” it seems public access is not an option. We are putting too much emphasis on mobile yet for many Africans it is costly and unreliable.
Although more countries, people and devices are connected to the internet the reality is that Africa still pays more for internet access than any other region of the world. For Africans to play our role as citizens of the world, we will need increased and cheaper access to the means of communications. Issues that still need a closer look at include on include spectrum management, barriers to entry for service providers, competition and pricing. Public access has fallen off the agenda of many countries and when we talk of “connecting the next billion” it seems public access is not an option.
We are putting too much emphasis on mobile yet for many Africans it is costly and unreliable. Access inequalities are even more visible when you look at marginalised groups, such as women, people with disabilities and in least developed countries in general. This makes internet access both a regulatory issue and a rights one.
At the 2015 IGF, net neutrality and zero rating were ‘the’ topics. Zero rating is a practice of not charging customers for specific applications and services. Plans are underway to provide internet.org to more African countries in 2016. What does this mean for access? I hope this is a discussion we will have at the Southern African IGF. Is internet access simply about getting more people online or focus on the quality of the connection and the potential to strengthen human rights?
SF: There has been a lot of debate about disclosing funding for travel of civil society to events like the IGF. Would you disclose how your travel was supported? What risks do you see in asking civil society to disclose this information?
EV: I have no problem in disclosing my funding for travel. In fact APC, publishes our sources of funding in the annual report – this is public information. My participation was largely covered by the Deutshe Welle Akademie. However, I do think it is problematic if we start create rules to say: “Tell us – who gave you the money?”. Of course, there is need for transparency but should we put this on a pedestal at the risk of the lives of others? For some members of civil society, they are alienated because of where their sources of funding comes from. Is it worth putting the life of a human rights defender at risk because you are keen to know where they are funding comes from?