What did Africa Get out of NETmundial Internet Governance Discussions?

Ephraim Percy Kenyanito discusses what Africa gained from the April 23-24th NETmundial meeting in São Paulo, Brazil. This post was originally published on the Access blog on May 9, 2014 and can be found here. This is the second post in Kenyanito’s series that spotlights “African Contributions to Internet Governance Discussions.” Part one can be found here.

BACKGROUND

NETmundial, the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance concluded recently in São Paulo, Brazil. The meeting’s goal was to develop internet governance principles and propose a roadmap for the further evolution of the internet governance ecosystem. In total, 1,480 participants from all stakeholder groups were physically present at NETmundial, and there were more than 30 hubs around the world (in 97 countries) that facilitated remote participation.

AFRICAN CONTRIBUTIONS

Our previous analysis of African stakeholders’ contributions to the initial NETmundial open submission process found that stakeholders from Africa emphasized human rights and role of governments in matters of internet governance.

COMPARISON WITH THE NETMUNDIAL MULTISTAKEHOLDER STATEMENT

NETmundial concluded with the approval of a final statement on internet governance principles. The final text built on contributions from the initial NETmundial open submission process andinputs from the Public Consultation on the Draft Outcome Document on the NETmundial’s website. However, in the process of negotiations and attempts to reach consensus, compromises were made. In this blog post we compare the contributions from the African region with the final NETmundial statement.

Human Rights

As noted, submissions coming from Africa had a strong emphasis on human rights issues. Notably:

  • CIPIT Kenya emphasized the need for full respect for freedom of expression, privacy, and protection from surveillance;
  • A group of African ICT/IG Stakeholders noted that intellectual property, freedom of expression, and the privacy and protection of personal data, minorities and children must be protected;
  • Our Rights Nigeria focused on the rights for people in Least Developed Countries (LDC), which must also be protected online, and should not be held to different standards;
  • Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum emphasized the lack of provisions for protecting the right to privacy in legal framework in Africa, and the need to learn from best practices from other regions; and
  • A coalition of Entertainment and Cultural Organizations (with members from Africa) called for ensuring the protection of intellectual property rights, as well as users’ rights, in an environment where stakeholders share knowledge and information.

Generally, the final NETmundial statement is in line with the priorities expressed in African submissions, especially those related to acknowledging the universality of human rights and taking into consideration internet governance priorities from developing countries’ perspectives. For example, the NETmundial outcome document recognizes that the internet is a global resource, which should be managed in the public interest.

The final text was also consistent with African inputs reinforcing the point that the same rights people have offline must also be protected online, including the freedom of expression, the freedom of association, and the right to privacy among others.

Other similarities were apparent in regards to positions on communications surveillance and privacy. While, for the subject of surveillance and privacy, the final NETmundial text did not live up to some high expectations from civil society, it did ultimately address the issue, noting:

“Procedures, practices and legislation regarding the surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data, including mass surveillance, interception and collection, should be reviewed, with a view to upholding the right to privacy by ensuring the full and effective implementation of all obligations under international human rights law.”

With regards to rights of accessibility for people with disabilities, the final NETmundial text went beyond what most of the African submissions called for. It stated that persons with disabilities should enjoy full access to online resources and cited the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

As noted above, some African submissions emphasized the need for internet governance to address the needs of people in developing countries. NETmundial addressed this issue by stating:

“…all people have a right to development and the Internet has a vital role to play in helping to achieve the full realization of internationally agreed sustainable development goals. It is a vital tool for giving people living in poverty the means to participate in development processes.”

Culture and Linguistic Diversity

African submissions highlighted that Africa is home to 54 countries, with 1 billion people of varying ethnic descent, more than 2,000 languages, and several writing systems or scripts. As such, cultural and linguistic diversity are important principles for Africa and efforts should continue towards local development of online content and making content available in forms that are locally relevant. The final NETmundial text takes this issue into account, stating that “Internet governance must respect, protect and promote cultural and linguistic diversity in all its forms.”

Unified and Unfragmented Online Space

African submissions noted that the open architecture of the internet and its status as a public good should be preserved to ensure that innovation and creativity for both the its evolution and use continues without undue interferences. Additionally, African submitters highlighted that knowledge-sharing is an important aspect of preserving openness as it supports innovation and interoperability. The NETmundial text closely reflects this concept, asserting that the:

“Internet should continue to be a globally coherent, interconnected, stable, unfragmented, scalable and accessible network-of-networks, based on a common set of unique identifiers and that allows data packets/information to flow freely end-to-end regardless of the lawful content.”

On a related point, NETmundial’s treatment of access to knowledge and intellectual property rights reflects competing interests coming from African submissions, as well as elsewhere. For example, while Africa ICT Alliance (AfICTA) and the Tunisian government highlighted the importance of access to information and knowledge-sharing, the coalition of Entertainment and Cultural Organizations (which in part included: ANCOP, Nigeria: Association of Nollywood Core Producers; SAFACT, South African Federation Against Copyright Theft. and the Southern African film, home entertainment and interactive games industries), for example, emphasized the need to protect intellectual property rights. Regrettably the language on freedom of information was altered to include the phrase “consistent with the rights of authors and creators as established in law” as a result of intensive lobbying from elements within the private sector.

Access and Low Barriers

Access and low barriers, was a key issue for African stakeholders, with at least one submission from each of the stakeholders focused on this topic. The final NETmundial text asserted that “Internet governance should promote universal, equal opportunity, affordable and high quality Internet access.” This goes beyond what the African submissions called for, as they did not use the term “high quality internet,” however, it is a welcome inclusion.

Multistakeholder

The final NETmundial text reflected the importance of involving all stakeholders in the further evolution of the internet governance ecosystem. This issue was also raised in African submissions.For example African Stakeholders’ contribution to NETmundial proposed that there was need for coordination between regional, national, and international IGF meetings. Similarly, the NETmundial final text expressed that, “National multistakeholder mechanisms should serve as a link between local discussions and regional and global instances. Therefore a fluent coordination and dialogue across those different dimensions is essential.”

Capacity Building

African contributions, specifically the Tunisian government’s submission, emphasized the importance of capacity building. The final NETmundial outcome document elaborated on capacity building by expressing that, “Enabling capacity building and empowerment through such measures such as remote participation and adequate funding, and access to meaningful and timely information are essential for promoting inclusive and effective Internet governance.”

Institutional Improvement

With respect to institutional improvements, African submissions  suggested that the global and regional IGFs better coordination among various players in the internet governance ecosystem and produce tangible outcomes in the form of non-binding opinions, recommendations, or policy principles.

The NETmundial final text is in line with these suggestions, stating:

“There should be adequate communication and coordination among existing forums, task forces and organizations of the Internet governance ecosystem. Periodic reports, formal liaisons and timely feedbacks are examples of mechanisms that could be implemented to that end. It would be recommendable to analyze the option of creating Internet governance coordination tools to perform on-going monitoring, analysis, and information-sharing functions.”

and

“There is a need for a strengthened Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Important recommendations to that end were made by the UN CSTD working group on IGF improvements. It is suggested that these recommendations will be implemented by the end of 2015.”

One can also note that both the African submissions and the final text recommend an extension of the current IGF mandate to a few more years.

Globalization of ICANN and IANA

Most African submissions addressing the globalization of ICANN and the IANA transition only focused on the importance of multistakeholder involvement in the process and did not suggest how the globalization ought to be carried out.

The NETmundial final text calls for multistakeholder involvement and gives a specific timeline for the transition which was not mentioned in African submissions. The NETmundial Text states: “This transition should be conducted thoughtfully with a focus on maintaining the security and stability of the Internet, empowering the principle of equal participation among all stakeholder groups and striving towards a completed transition by September 2015.”

CONCLUSION

One can say that, in general,the NETmundial outcome document reflected the priorities expressed in the submissions coming from Africa.

It is important to note, however, that the language in NETmundial statement was, in some respects, watered down in comparison to the text found in the African submissions. Consequently, some of the paragraphs of the final text are too vague and open to varied interpretations.

Perhaps the best example of this is NETmundial’s treatment of net neutrality. Some aspects of net neutrality, such as the principle that “data packets/information to flow freely end to- end regardless of the lawful content,”were featured in the outcome document, however, the term itself was not included, except in the section “Points to be discussed beyond NETmundial.” Net neutrality was a clear priority in some African submissions, including contributions from the government of Tunisia, African ICT/IG Stakeholders, CIPIT Kenya, and Sudan’s Beta Advanced Projects.

One reason African priorities are not always addressed at international internet governance processes is the often low levels of participation from the region. In the case of NETmundial, the meeting had at least 200 daily views from remote participants across each of the 5 participation hubs located in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia. Additionally there were 77 African participants physically present in Brazil.

While participation from Africa may have been lower than that of other regions, African governments, including the governments of Ghana, South Afric, and Tunisia, made up one-quarter of the group of twelve governments co-hosting NETmundial. There were also a number of prominent African persons holding leadership positions at the meeting. Nnenna Nwakanma spoke as a civil society speaker in the opening ceremony. Jimson Olufuye, Tarek Kamel, Adiel Akplogan, Anriette Esterhuysen, and Andile Ngcaba were among others who participated as members of leadership committees and chairs of sessions.

Additionally, a number of high-ranking government officials spoke at NETmundial, including Edward Kofi Omane Boamah (Minister of Communications, Ghana), Thierry Moungalla (Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Republic of Congo), and Jean Philibert Nsengimana (Ministry of Youth & ICT, Rwanda).

In order to bring the NETmundial outcome forward in Africa, it is up to both those who engaged in the process and those who see value in the meeting’s outcome to continue to press for progress around their priorities. There is no shortage of fora to do so. Africans who participated physically and remotely at NETmundial are already engaging through various mailing lists such as: AfNOG (African Network Operators Group), AFRINIC (African Network Information Center), AfREN (The African research and education networking), AfTlD (African Top Level Domains Organization), AfricaCERT, ISOC African Chapters, the African IGFs, the AfPIF (African Peering and Interconnection Forum), and AfriSIG (Africa School of Internet Governance). Most of these organizations have slotted sessions in their 2014 meetings to discuss issues outlined in the NETmundial final document.

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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:AttributionSome rights reserved by CulturaGovBr

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