2013 AFIGF Advocates Involvement of Non-Governmental Stakeholders in Internet Policy Processes

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Internet governance stakeholders rose from a four-day Africa Internet Governance Forum (AFIGF) in Nairobi, Kenya, last month with a call on African Governments to involve representatives from non-governmental stakeholders in preparatory processes for regional and international policy forums and include them in their delegations to such events.

Cross Section of the High Table

In a detailed communiqué adopted at the end of the second annual face-to-face meeting, the forum commended governments that have shown leadership in opening up policy processes to participation from other stakeholders and urged them to continue to do so and ensure such processes are sustained over the longer term.

 The participants called on those governments that have not yet adopted such an approach to do so while also urging them to allocate resources in national and departmental budgets to facilitate and support public participation in the processes.

They also canvassed the involvement of all relevant departments and levels of government, including at the provincial and local levels, in Internet policy formulation processes.

The forum was held from September 23 to 26, 2013 at the Multimedia University of Kenya. In addition to hundreds of remote participants, the forum had 195 Internet Governance stakeholders from 29 countries physically in attendance.   The forum, which was held under the theme:  “Building Bridges – Enhancing Multi-stakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development”, had participants from governments, the private sector, civil society, regional and international organizations.

The forum stressed that public participation in ICT policy processes should be open to all stakeholders and their engagement encouraged and equally valued, adding that “the purpose, goals, and modalities of the processes should be agreed by stakeholders from the outset and each should come to the process with a willingness to work towards consensus.”

It also recommended that public participation in policy processes should be formalised at legislative or constitutional level, as is already the case in Kenya and South Africa, emphasizing that “consultation should occur at the early stages of policy making thereby improving buy-in and implementation.”

The forum advised stakeholder groups to strengthen their deliberative structures and processes so as to more effectively engage at multi-stakeholder levels, adding that they should be accountable and transparent and report back to their constituencies.

It also recommended that documents, proceedings, and submissions should be open and readily available to the public throughout the process to enable stakeholders to assess whether their inputs have been taken into account.

Young people were advised to participate in multi-stakeholder processes and seek inclusion where they have not been explicitly invited while universities and student organisations were urged to take account of and be involved in ICT development and policies.

Prime Minister of Ethiopia and AU Chairman, Mr. Hailemariam Desalegn

The forum called on regional institutions, including the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC), to actively engage with non-governmental stakeholders on ICT public policy issues, particularly those relating to infrastructure development.

It implored the business community to participate in multi-stakeholder policy dialogues and forums and called on business associations to play a leadership role in facilitating such participation, adding that where such associations do not exist, the business community should establish them.

Members of civil society were advised to ensure that their participation reflects the diversity of civil society, and includes non-ICT specific groups such as traditional leaders and human rights and faith-based organizations.  They were also urged to continue to convene and self-organise to build their knowledge and develop common positions on policy issues, when possible.

The forum observed that the media, including community media, public and state media, commercial media and social media are key to raising public awareness about ICT policy, and should therefore be active participants in ICT policy processes.

It recommended the development and use of “scorecards” to monitor and assess the progress being made by governments and other stakeholders towards achieving the principles of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) on participation and inclusion of all stakeholders as contained in the Geneva Plan of Action, as well as substantive goals included in the WSIS Action Lines.

Participants at the African Internet Governance Forum

Such scorecards, it said, can be based on indicators for use throughout Africa, and can be customized to national contexts.  It proposed the adoption of WSIS-related scorecards to measure progress on adhering to the WSIS principles to complement reporting on implementing WSIS goals, and factored into existing national, sub-regional, and Africa-wide multi-stakeholder processes, including the IGF process.

The forum encouraged the establishment of Internet Exchange Points at national and regional levels, saying there should be dedicated national network infrastructures that can connect the government, industry and research community for the benefit of promoting open knowledge engagement, open data system for researchers, innovation, end-users and researchers’ synergy and IT development

It described “digital inclusion” as a necessity for Africa’s development with huge advantages to nations such as enhancing citizenship integrations, global competiveness, government revenues, national integrity, human development, as well as skills and knowledge sharing and transfer.

It observed that in the current definition of sovereignty, nations that are not technologically sovereign are not considered sovereign.

The forum therefore suggested that there should be National Policy Guidelines and Regulatory frameworks on Digital Inclusion and Integration that must address the following core essentials, namely: stakeholders’ participation, data protection with legal framework, digital independence, adequate digital literacy infrastructural framework, government direct intervention through her respective institutions; and mainstream cross-network synergies in the roll out of national Internet infrastructure.

The forum also addressed the issue of security, particularly the necessity of legal and other frameworks for addressing the problems of spam, hacking and cyber-crime.

It proposed frameworks at national levels for the development of national Computer Emergency Readiness Team ecosystems.

It recommended the convening of capacity building workshops for relevant stakeholders; the identification of aspects of policies that need to be changed to make legislation more supportive of online freedoms; the establishment of common understanding on what should be considered a cyber crime at the regional level; investment in relevant cyber-security research and development; enhancing the capacity of legislators and law enforcement agencies in cyber-security; and sensitization of parent and users on the emerging security issues of cyber space.

Participants at the Forum

The forum suggested encouraging the exchange of experience between different African regional organizations; harmonizing the national and sub-regional policies with the regional AU Cyber-security Convention; raising awareness and spurring multi-stakeholder conversations on the importance of protecting internet rights the way human rights have always been protected and promoted; establishing an effective mechanism to protect children from the risks and rapid intervention to protect children; adopting and ratifying relevant legislative instruments on cyber-security; and taking into consideration the evolving nature of the Internet and cyber-security in the development and application of legislative instruments.

On the issue of human rights, freedom of expression and free flow of information on the Internet, the forum recommended following up and implementing recent resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council and the interpretive statement on human rights and the Internet made by the UN Human Rights Committee; encouraging states to reinforce press freedom; establishing minimum regulations to guarantee freedom expression as well as discouraging defamation; encouraging all stakeholders to join forces to uphold a free and open Internet; adopting a multi-stakeholder approach in Internet policy regulation; and upholding fundamental human rights and their applicable principles in the development of national and regional Internet policies.

The forum suggested that African Governments be encouraged to adopt and use Open Source Solutions with clear policy support and political will while also building the capacity to manage and create African Open Source ICT solutions.

It called for the extension of broadband Internet connections to rural areas in Africa