Africa and internet governance: going global or stay local?

19 September 2010

The impact of internet governance on Africa was discussed on September 16th 2010, in Vilnius, Lithuania. There was fair representation of all stakeholders. Officials from South Africa, Kenya and Tunisia were there; a representative from an internet service provider; and various Africa bodies that follow the process, such as AFRINIC, ISOC Africa and CICEWA. And there were representatives from civil society - those dealing with ICT and internet, delegates from consumer’s organizations, academics from African universities, gender activists and ICT consultants as well as community based organizations.

But not only Africans where interested. There was at least one funder of an ICT initiative in the room, and representatives of private sector interested or already working in Africa.

The conversations started by discussing what has been done to deal with our issues and cope with our poverty and our delays in meeting various commitments.

Pierre Dandjinou, representative of Panos Institute, stressed the fact that there is not one Africa but 52 of them; that Africa is the development frontier. With 52% of the world's resources, and 70% of the population below 25 years hold, the continent has good potential for internet development.

Among the African countries, some have made good advances, that equal some European countries, said Dr Bekele of ISOC AFRICA, such as in the cases of Morocco and Tunisia. Therefore, effort to build capacity should not be seen as only a north-south process, but also an inter-Africa process.

Rachel Ana of ICANN pointed out that the different initiatives that are happening on the continent to make sure that we have content there is own-language to allow the internet to be accessed by more people. This in turn would help to develop needed human resources including engineers and technicians that would support the implementation and development of internet in Africa. She also said that when it comes to CCTLDS (country-code top-level domains), African countries have made efforts that must be recognized. Historically all the 54 cctlds were managed by universities, telecoms or individuals outside the region. But most of them today are managed in Africa, with the exception of three countries, due to issues such as civil war and electricity infrastructure. But management is not the only issue. The question remains whether the management is good. Good management of the TLD in Africa would both foster trust for African people in using the domains, and would also help create content in our own languages.

She thinks that work towards access in a continent where 52% of the population is female must include education for them and their children, the possibility of enhancing their economic independence and other things that will bring development.

Mrs. Fatoumata, a Senegalese consultant, talked about the effort her country is making to introduce ICT in the education system. In this context, many scenarios are being studied to overcome difficulties presented due to diversity of languages. Among these scenarios is the possibility to choose some African languages as working languages in the creation of applications and content.

After that Adiel of AFrinic stressed the need for human capacity, as Africa has the expertise, the competency to develop exchange points and broadband.

The floor was then open. Discussions included the need to solve the language issue and to create global applications from Africa instead of just thinking locally, to put forward the continent's uniqueness to create things that others can’t, and a Lithuanian student participant raised that she heard a lot about supply but very little about demand. She says that in Europe, everybody thought that the development of applications would enhance interest, and interest cause the demand but it was not the case.

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