Spotlight on African Contributions to Internet Governance Discussions: Part Three: ITU-CWG Internet

Ephraim Percy Kenyanito and Olivia Martin discuss African participation in the Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). This post was originally published on the Access blog on May 19, 2014 and can be found here. This is the third post in Kenyanito’s series that spotlights “African Contributions to Internet Governance Discussions.” Parts one and two can be found here and here.

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 analyzes common positions and the 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 the Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

CWG-Internet

The CWG-Internet’s mandate is to identify, study, and develop matters related to specific international internet-related public policy issues [1]. 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. Of the 37 Member States that responded, six were from Africa: Botswana, Mauritius, Morocco, Rwanda, Sudan and Zambia. 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.

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Of the twelve topics covered in the consultation, we found that most of the African 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

More revealing than the 12 issue areas specifically addressed by questionnaire were the 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 Arabiadid 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 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.

Finally, if not for the documents leaked at WCITLeaks and governments that conducted open consultations, the public would not know the positions of different governments in this consultation.

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 are available hereand here.

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Ephraim is an Intern working with the Policy team for Access, where he focuses on the connection between internet policy and human rights and specifically works on Internet Governance Reforms. He is an ICANN Fellow (Singapore) and a Fellow of the African School of Internet Governance (South Africa). He is currently a rising senior studying for a Bachelor of Law (LLB) Degree at University and a course in Global Civics at Global Civics Academy. Ephraim is also an Author and Translator through various online publications such as Global Voices Online , The Daily Journalist and through a personal blog, “The Diary of a Global Citizen”. Previously he was a Reporter and Multimedia Team member at European Journalism Centre’s “ThinkBrigade Project.” Ephraim has also been carrying out various African Regional Integration projects with the East African Community Secretariat. He also has a passion for Democratic Governance Issues and has been involved in research and promotion of Governance Issues through projects facilitated by Transparency International, MercyCorps (International) and Centre for Law and Research International (CLARION) among other diverse-range of social development organizations.

Featured Photo Credit: Access

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