African Synch – Thoughts on AfriSIG 2014 by Pria Chetty

Go do a quick search for Ubuntu on the web. Instead of its true meaning "the belief in a

universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity", you will find a multitude of references to the Linux operating system. What is your reaction? Mine is one of disorientation. The web controls my window on the world. For all the benefits of access to information, an imperative is presented for governance of the web. The same can be said for the internet. Ensuring equal and neutral access to opportunities enabled by the internet involves active

participation in its governance. Over the years, forums and gathering present opportunities

to synch, share and exchange perspectives and positions on issues such as allocation of

internet resources and roles and responsibilities of internet stakeholders, for instance.

Importantly, declarations and policies that decide on approaches to enable internet inclusion,

opportunity and protection are being cast.

We (Africans, in particular) need to understand the current rules that inform internet governance and how we wish to participate in shifts in internet governance. Or face exclusion from the decision making on the future of the/our internet. That is perhaps the overriding byte that emerged from the African School for Internet Governance this year.

There was however, a decided energy in the room. Our hosts, APC and NePAD had

enabled an opportunity for a converged African society of sorts, to synch on their views, concerns and plans to foster internet governance activity on the African continent.

These opportunities are few and far between. What emerged was that the

current mobilisation of internet governance advocates and representation at key forums was not ideal. Where there was representation, positions weren’t clear or cohesive. A group needs to emerge (somewhat like a call for superheroes) ably and actively enabling African multistakeholder positions to be delivered at international forums and meetings. But…how do we do this?

Here’s a take on why AfriSIG is a bold step towards improved African inclusion in internet

governance matters:

AfriSIG is a channel: I listened intently to the introductions on the eve of the school. Those

gathered had earned their stripes in internet advocacy and were (in some cases literally)

wearing the t-shirt. Others were defining the irreconcilable issues with the way the internet is

governed. Together a powerful convergence of interests, knowledge , experience and

enthusiasm emerged. This will grow with each year, each class and each new constituent.

Let’s enable a channel for communication i.e. get key dates, calls for submissions,

opportunities to present viewpoints etc. to internet governance groups across the continent.

Let’s improve the relevance of our discussion. Are we on point with the emerging debates?

When positions are distilled let’s get this information back to the person/ persons who can

collate and take these forward. We can’t all attend meetings nor can any one person or

group take responsibility for the African position. We can however grow our efficiency and

create a stable channel to share and synch.

AfriSIG is a platform: There were many important conversations initiated at AfriSIG. For

me, I query, why do we harmonise our laws with models from the West? How does the issue

of net neutrality impact African policy-makers? How do we improve inclusion of multi-

stakeholder positions in internet policy setting? AfriSIG can be a platform to raise such questions and facilitate their inquiry through the broader network generated in various parts

of Africa. A powerful platform is possible.

AfriSIG is a device: With such enabled features, such as lists, blogs, twitter handles, a first

line support desk in APC and a promise of future releases, AfriSIG is indeed the device we

need to initiate conversations with our peers. Whilst the device is enabled, there is a

dependency on each of us to utilise its features. Have you blogged yet? Or shared

opportunities with the list? Have you connected with others who should apply to attend

AfriSIG next year? I left AfriSIG 2014 with a red bindi on my forehead from a visit to the local temple. Long after I washed it off, a red stain lingered. The opportunity enabled by AfriSIG 2014 is an equally lingering if not, wakeful inquiry. I hope you feel the same.

We need to thank you APC, NePAD and other friends of AfriSIG. I look forward to synching, sharing and growing amongst you.