By Brenda Zulu in Ethiopia
African countries have been challenged by the United Nations Economic Commission (UNECA) to identify priorities in issues affecting Internet Governance (IG).
Speaking at the opening of the training course for African policy makers at the United Nations Conference Center in Addis Ababa, Aida Opoku-Mensah, OIC, Development Information Services Division (DISD) observed that despite participation Africa needed to build by identifying it’s priorities as IG was an increasingly relevant issue in international relations.
“It has attracted a heated debate for quite sometime and that participation in the global Internet Governance debate represented a significant challenge for all countries, especially African countries,” Mensah said.
Mensah observed that during the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) process it was evident that there was lack of negotiation capacity on IG issues among African delegations as well as delegates from other developing regions.
“We need to get Africa to participate so that it can acquire knowledge and facilitate at various national and international fora,” said Mensah.
She observed that this hindered Africa’s participation in the global internet process. Therefore, developing the required skills base was the strongest possible response Africa needed to concentrate on such what the ECA has done in setting up a discussion list on IG in the framework of the UN ICT Task force African Stakeholders Network (ASN).
She noted that the despite the UN Secretary General’s request to establish a Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) which delwed further on the subject to produce a report, there was no agreement on IG at Tunis Summit.
The summit decided to keep in place existing arrangements for Internet governance and stressed the need for a transparent, democratic and multilateral process with the participation of governments, private sector, international organisations and all stakeholders.
The summit also requested the UN secretary General to convene a new Internet Governance forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue which would hold its first meeting in Athens, Greece from 30 October-2 November 2006.
Mensah pointed out that the ECA considers the Internet as a major tool for development, especially a major platform for electronic commerce and has been pioneering ICT for development activities since 1996 in the framework of the African Information Society Initiative (AISI).
Mensah hoped the at the end of the course the participants drawn from African countries will facilitate Africa’s participation in the debate on ICT for Development at national, regional and international levels, including meaningful contribution in the newly established IG forum and Global alliance on ICT4D both created the UN secretary General on request of members.
Quoting the Accra Commitments for the Information Society, Mensah said “In order to achieve an inclusive and participatory approach, policy makers should bring on board the remaining 90% of the population unaware of the stakes and challenges of the information society, especially those handicapped due to local language barriers. In this regard there is need to support initiatives to develop local content in local languages and their access on the Internet. In this regard we invite regional organisations and African experts to work for the integration of African languages and multilingualism on internet. We call for the mainstreaming of various dimensions of IG into the development of national and regional e-strategic plans.
Mean while ITU regional representative for Africa Brahim Sanou, observed the most significant steps in the process as holding of the WSIS which had raised awareness and brought together all the stakeholders which has broadened the angle of view and tremendous enriched the debate.
He also observed that no institution or organisation could deal with the Internet related issues alone and that this had created a big room and momentum for cooperation amongest institutions and organisations as well as between governments oriented and private sector driven institutions and organisations.
Sanou informed the participants that at regional level, the just ended seventh Forum on Telecommunications Regulation in Africa recommended that African Regulators should increase their participation to the existing mechanisms of internet governance and actively support related new local and regional initiatives.
“But before one can build and express his views, participate actively, defend his interest and compromise with others, one needs to be aware about the opportunities and challenges and that is what this training course is all about,” said Sanou.
Sanou said the debates and discussions were bound to continue for a while in the internet governance forum and other instances and gatherings until an acceptable consensus was reached.
He said the issues of internet governance and more generally the internet related issues such as networks, cyber security, ENUM protocol on mapping telephone number to the Internet Uniform resource Identifier, Spam etc are subject to research, contribution and debate that started at technical issues where overtaken by public concerns.